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Presidential election invalidated in Serbia because of an insufficient turn out

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Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy

-

13 October 2002
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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

45.08 % of the Serbs turned out to vote on Sunday 13th October for the second round of the presidential election i.e. a turn out that was nearly 5% lower than the minimum required by the Serb electoral law to ensure the election's validation. Serb law makes it obligatory to have a participation rate of 50%. The presidential election will therefore be invalidated by the electoral commission and a new election will be organised at a later date. There are now two ways open to the Serb authorities: either new elections are convened within a three month period or Natacha Micic, President of the Serb Assembly and an ally of Zoran Djindjic the Prime Minister, will take over the post of head of state in the interim as from 5th January onwards, when Milan Milutinovic, the present president's mandate is due to finish. The authorities have two months to organise a new presidential election. It would appear that they have opted for the first solution ; Natacha Micic has announced that she will convene a new election as soon as the electoral commission's official conclusions have been delivered to her, i.e. on 22nd October at the latest. A new election might take place between 1st and 8th December.

The population did not heed the appeals launched by the European Union and the Orthodox Church inviting them to go and vote. More than half of Serb voters stayed at home, dissatisfied by the choice that they had been offered and disinterested by politics or obeying the ultra-nationalist's rally to boycott the second round of the election. Indeed participation was extremely low in the regions where he came out on top during the first round. The governor of Serbia's Central Bank, Mladjan Dinkic on hearing the results declared that it was "obvious that Serbia had decided to give Seselj another chance". Supporters of Miroljub Labus were also accused of abstention, believing that their candidate had little chance of winning. Vojislav Kostunica openly accused "open and hidden calls" to boycott for the failure of the presidential election. During the second round Vojislav Kostunica won 66.67% of the votes cast, forging way ahead of his rival Miroljub Labus who won 31.23% of the vote.

The President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is then the major loser in this election leaving Zoran Djindjic ahead in the political race and the organisation of the future election. However he now has to face growing opposition in his own camp. Many members of movements that belong to the ruling coalition, especially the Democratic Serb Opposition (DOS), such as Nebojsa Covic, leader of the Democratic Alternative, Dragoljub Micunovic, head of the Democratic Centre and Miodrag Isakov, leader of the Voïvodine Reformists did not think twice about supporting Vojislav Kostunica during the presidential election. A rift also become apparent between the Prime Minister and Miroljub Labus during the campaign between rounds when the Serb Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed to the daily newspaper Blic that the representatives of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) would be re-admitted into Parliament sooner or later. This is a possibility that Prime Minister Djindjic has ruled out.

Zoran Djindjic remained astonishingly confident during the entire electoral campaign confirming: "Whatever the results of these elections might be, there will be no crisis in Serbia, reforms will continue and everything will go on in an orderly manner. I believe that this confirms that Serbia has managed to reach the stage where its major problems have been solved and now elections are an ordinary event in democratic life in this country". This is an optimistic opinion and opposite from Vojislav Kostunica who is very pessimistic, "the country will sink into a state of chaos and anarchy" if the elections are invalidated.

Immediately after the election the European Commission called for the Serb authorities to act quickly in order to ensure the organisation of a new presidential election; simultaneously it expressed its fears about the country's political stability. For its part the OSCE called on the Serb authorities to make urgent changes to the electoral law that make a participation rate higher than 50% obligatory The failure of the presidential election could delay the completion of some important issues, such as the adoption of the Charter for the Future State of Serbia and Montenegro on which depends the opening of admission procedures to the Council of Europe planned for 7th November. The election's postponement might also lead to a slowing in the application of the reform programme started by Zoran Djindjic's government.

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