The runoff presidential election in Serbia: UNDECIDED VOTERS WILL DECIDE

Posted in Europe | 30-Jan-08

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. On the occasion of the runoff presidential election in Serbia which is to take place on 3 February 2008 IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current pre-election situation in that country. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis are given below:

The candidates with the highest numbers of votes in the first round of the presidential election in Serbia which was held on 20 January 2008 were Tomislav Nikolic (39,99%) from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and current President Boris Tadic (35,39%) from the Democratic Party (DS). The election turnout was 61,37%.

In the runoff election campaign increased tensions can be felt in the election rhetoric, especially on the side of the presidential candidate Boris Tadic. SRS candidate Tomislav Nikolic probably finds it easier to deal with the more tense situation since he enjoys more unified support from his voters who have a more or less unified value system. However, Nikolic has been avoiding using sharp rhetoric, trying to win the sympathy of a wider voting body, although at the moment Tadic would benefit from Nikolic's sharp approach.

DS candidate Boris Tadic has opted for a more tense election rhetoric in order to attract the followers of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and New Serbia (NS), which would not be easy to achieve with a coherent campaign. Tadic will have to express a wide range of election promises to address very divergent groups of voters. His campaign should be segmented and at the same time general and he should avoid using harsh rhetoric as this may cause him problems.

Due to strong pressures DSS leader Vojislav Koštunica and NS president Velimir Ilic were forced to give tacit support to DS candidate Boris Tadic in the runoff presidential election. Nevertheless, this will not be of key importance for the election results, since the success of both candidates will depend on their communication with the voters, campaign activities and TV confrontations while the support expressed by the leaders of political parties who proposed their candidates for the first round of elections will be of minor importance.

DS has formally asked the DSS-NS coalition for support in the runoff presidential election. Along with their expression of support to Tadic, DSS and NS sent an annex to the coalition agreement to DS, in which they practically demanded as compensation the possibility to suspend the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with EU should EU send a mission to Kosovo. After DS refused to sign the annex to the coalition agreement, Koštunica and Ilic promised to give tacit support to Tadic. According to Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica the Stabilisation and Association Agreement may only be signed if the EU refrains from sending its “illegal mission” to Kosovo.

Koštunica said that signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU had to be in Serbia's interests, just as the energy agreement with the Russian government on co-operation in the oil and gas sector was in the interests of the citizens and the economy.

According to analysts the present Serbian authorities have enabled the Russian companies to enter the Serbian economy under highly non-transparent conditions and prices in order to "buy" the sympathy of Russian politics towards Serbia and the solution of the Kosovo issue in Serbia's interest. By signing the co-operation agreement with Russia, Serbian authorities wanted to show that Russia is an alternative to EU.

TADIC WITHOUT INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT

Serbia's current President Boris Tadic has lost the support of the international community which supported him strongly in the last elections. Analysts believe that Tadic failed to meet the expectations, therefore the international community is now looking for alternative Serbian politicians. While Tadic is trying to prove that he still has the international support and that life in Serbia is better than it was before after all, Nikolic repeatedly points to the problem of the elite in the current structure of authority arising from the Democratic Party (DS) and Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) which is becoming immensely rich. Nikolic has recently made a series of contacts in the international circles, which may explain his significantly changed election rhetoric. Failure to sign the SAA with EU on 28 January 2008 is a clear sign that EU does not support Tadic and does not want to be directly involved in the presidential election in Serbia. An exception was the statement made by Slovenia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel who said that if Serbia elected a moderate president it could become a member of the Union within a few years, thus directly interfering in the pre-election campaign by supporting Boris Tadic.

ELECTIONS OVERSHADOWED BY THE KOSOVO ISSUE

The runoff election campaign has been overshadowed by two important topics: European integration and the resolution of the Kosovo issue. This is only the continuation of the debate which was initiated before the campaign and which has intensified, though not concretised during the runup to the election. Analysis are of the opinion that both presidential candidates are aware that Serbia has practically lost Kosovo. Unless it signs the Stabilisation and Association Agreement Serbia will be completely isolated which will further weaken its position and ability to defend its integrity. The worst situation for Serbia would be not signing SAA and losing Kosovo at the same time. It would be therefore senseless for Serbian politicians to "trade" with the issue of Kosovo.

One of the leaders of Kosovo Serbs Oliver Ivanovic believes that Koštunica’s linking of the Kosovo status with the European integration does not represent state politics but his own selfish interest with the goal of weakening the position of Boris Tadic and the Democratic Party.

NIKOLIC WILL WIN UNLESS THERE IS ELECTION FRAUD

The tensions have increased in the runoff election campaign in Serbia. According to analysts election fraud is possible. Nevertheless, the Serbian Radical Party has a strong network of confidants in the field who are able to prevent eventual election fraud.

The IFIMES International Institute believes that Serbian voters are mostly pro-European oriented. However, the majority will vote for Nikolic and there is a possibility of election fraud, as Tadics' followers and the current authorities pull the main strings in the election process. Serbia's and international observers and officials should therefore intensify control of the election process.

EU AND ITS PRESIDING STATE COMPROMISED BY THE SAA

The signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU refers to Serbia without Kosovo and is conditional on the surrender of the main war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, while there is no mention of Radovan Karadžic at the international level any longer.

Analysts note that Slovenia as the presiding EU state has advocated the signing of the SAA without conditioning it on the delivery of Mladic and the fulfilment of high standards set by the EU for all countries wishing to join the European integration. This opens numerous questions and justifiably calls for the responsibility of certain international officials. Especially, not demanding the delivery of general Ratko Mladic, who is accused of committing war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as genocide in Srebrenica, shows the relative attitude to war crimes and genocide as well as to the responsibility of Serbia in view of the International Court of Justice ruling of February 2007. Biased position on genocide and war crimes clearly points to the attitude towards the victims of past wars, which calls for the responsibility of EU leading politicians including the currently presiding EU state, who may answer for their attitude to genocide according the national and international law. Thus, we may talk about double standards and even possible corruption on the part of certain EU high officials due to their biased position on Serbia. While the presiding EU state openly supports Vojislav Koštunica's government, it has been assigned, according to recently revealed diplomatic documents on bilateral talks between Slovenia's and United States' high officials, the task to be the first state to recognise Kosovo's independence, which raises doubts as to the credibility and reputation of Slovenia and the EU.

The IFIMES International Institute notes that the proposed provisional Stabilisation and Association Agreement which has been offered to Serbia to sign on 7 February 2008 compromises the reputation of the EU which is becoming increasingly unprincipled, taking "ad hoc" decisions and diminishing the gravity of war crimes and genocide by not insisting on the surrender of the main war crimes suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadžic. Analysts warn that biased decisions made by the EU justifiably open the question of the compromised position of certain EU high officials and Slovenia as the currently presiding EU state.

UNDECIDED VOTERS WILL DECIDE

The IFIMES International Institute estimates that the results of the runoff presidential election in Serbia will depend mostly on the currently undecided voters who will opt for their favourite at the last moment depending on the impression the presidential candidates make on them. Due to diametrically different positions of political parties, party leaders avoid appealing clearly to their voters to vote for the candidates of other parties since they do not want to compromise their credibility and reputation.

Ljubljana, 30 January 2008

International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) – Ljubljana

Director:
Bakhtyar Aljaf

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