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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    MON, 01 DEC 1997 19:05:50 GMT

    Elections in Serbia

    DEAD HEAT IN THE RACE FOR PRESIDENT

    Just ten odd days before the beginning of the repeated presidential elections in Serbia (scheduled for 7 December), public opinion polls show what is already common knowledge. Popularity of Vojislav Seselj (of the Serb Radical Party -SRS) has grown since the last time, and that of Vuk Draskovic (Serb Revival Movement-SPO) has dropped. The same goes for Milan Milutinovic (candidate of the Socialist Party of Serbia, Yugoslav United Left and New Democracy, SPS-JUL-ND) whose rating is lower than what that of his predecessor, Zoran Lilic, used to be. In general, the citizens do not consider going to the polls in December elections very important.

    AIM Belgrade, 30 November, 1997

    In all probability, the second presidential elections in Serbia will also be a fiasco. According to the words of Srbobran Brankovic, director of the respectable public opinion agency called Medium, it is most likely that the voters in the forthcoming elections will not respond in a sufficient number. (For legitimacy of the elections, it is necessary that 50 per cent plus one citizen vote). Brankovic explains that it is a rule that the citizens are always less interested in a repeated vote. Besides, the voters in Serbia are additionally depressed by the fact that so far they have not been able to change anything by their ballots.

    The impression is, nevertheless, that the Socialists are this time taking the campaign of their candidate seriously, and he is touring Serbian cities under the slogan: "Both Serbia and the World". He has a better campaign than his predecessor. All three parties - members of the coalition are wholeheartedly working in favour of their presidential candidate. Even the federal government has come out with the draft law on return of foreign currency savings in which for the first time the deposits in privately-owned Dafiment Bank are recognized to be the responsibility of the state.

    According to Brankovic's assessment, it is going to be of great help for Milutinovic that Slobodan Milosevic is his personal friend. He is vulnerable, however, this sociologists stresses, primarily because of serious scandals connected with financial embezzlement in Greece. Besides, there is the political persecution of the most prominent professors of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade in 1974 which is noted in his curriculum vitae. This fact is given increasing publicity. Having this in mind, the Socialists have skilfully avoided confrontations of presidential candidates on state television.

    Therefore, in spite of everything the left coalition has undertaken, it is difficult to believe that Milan Milutinovic can win one million and eight hundred thousand votes which are necessary for the president to be elected. Srbobran Brankovic is convinced that it should be considered to be a success if Vuk Draskovic, who is ranking third in the polls, wins the same number of votes (about nine hundred thousand) as in the previous elections. His role is, therefore, only to prevent a possible advantage of Vojislav Seselj in the first round.

    For the connoisseurs of the political circumstances there is no doubt that the candidates of the so-called Left and of the Radicals will qualify for the second round. Seselj is entering the December elections with the capital of the moral winner of the previous voting. According to all investigations, he stands the most chance. Seselj's speeches which are a mixture of social demagogy and "all the Serbs in a single state" are accepted by the pauperized, humiliated and disorientated Serbs as a great comfort.

    If the Socialists have not taken seriously the leader of the Radicals in the previous elections, they certainly have prepared his definite "dismemberment" for December. As the day of voting is approaching, attacks on Seselj in all central programs of state television are intensifying. Cameras of Radio-Television Serbia are covering Milutinovic's and even Draskovic's campaign almost to the smallest detail. The latter is given special attention by the official TV when he is retelling discreditting data about Seselj from the time when they were close friends and even best men.

    Dusan Mihajlovic, leader of New Democracy, one of the member-parties of the left coalition, declared that Vojislav Seselj would not be the president of Serbia. The director of Medium agency confirms this. According to his opinion, the Socialists will not allow the head of the SRS to triumph, even if this actually happens. They still have the possibility to manipulate the votes, especially in Kosovo.

    Although it is becoming more and more obvious that the Socialists have put the entire party and state apparatus in the service of Milutinovic's victory, the analysts in Serbia are not united concerning the opinion whether Milosevic actually needs the president of Serbia. The leader of the Democratic Alternative, Nebojsa Covic, who was thrown out of the SPS because he disagreed with the theft of votes in the local elections, believes that failure to elect the president of Serbia buys time for Slobodan Milosevic. He is in this way given the opportunity, depending on the outcome of developments in Montenegro in January, to clearly define his future political moves in Serbia.

    Others, however, believe that this time Milosevic needs a man at the head of Serbia who will nominate the future prime minister and in this way try to stabilize his power at least for some time. Since the Socialists do not have the majority in the parliament they are forced to form the government with the help of the Radicals or the SPO which again rejects any possibility of cooperation with the SRS.

    How difficult it is for these parties to reach any agreement, but especially the one about choice of ministers, is illustrated well enough by the fact that the constituting session of the assembly of Serbia was convened (for 3 December) only two months after closing of the polling stations. The only thing the three leading parliamentary parties have in common which can bring about an agreement is fear of new elections.

    If Serbia remains without a president after the second round of the repeated elections it is almost certain that there will be new, not only presidential but also republican parliamentary elections in March next year at the latest. It is not impossible that the citizens will also go to the polls in spring in order to vote for the chamber of citizens of the federal assembly, and even for the new local administration.

    Vesna Vujic

    (AIM)