Domestic Politics

Milošević's rise
Milošević address Serbs at Kosovo Polje in 1989. (public source)

Milošević addresses Serbs at Kosovo Polje on April 24, 1989. (Courtesy of  Polaris/Tomislav Peternek)

When he became Serbian Communist Party head in 1987, other party leaders believed he would be easily controlled. Many consider his visit to the Kosovo Polje in 1989, a turning point. Milošević gave a speech recalling the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, which served to electrify Serbian national sentiment. His party won the first Serbian multi-party elections with less than 50% of the popular vote, but benefited from an electoral system which gave it 194 of 250 seats.

Seselj speech during the 1990s  (YouTube Printscreen)

Seselj speech during the 1990s (YouTube)

In the face of demonstrations in Belgrade in 1991 against state control of the media, Milošević called in the Yugoslav Army to suppress the protest. In elections in December 1992, his party received less than 30% of the vote, and only 101 seats. He retained power by forming an alliance withVojislav Šešelj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Capitalizing on the Serb perception that Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia were threatened, the party gained popularity by actively aiding Serb military campaigns in those Republics. Milošević himself became President of Serbia, a position he occupied until 1997.

Sanctions implemented and later lifted

Serbia and Montenegro were placed under sanctions by the international community for their involvement in the fighting in Croatia and Bosnia.

If in 1992-3 Western leaders wanted to oust Milošević, by 1994 they appeared invested in his survival. He was seen as the figure that could deliver peace by controlling local Serbian leaders and in 1995, at Dayton, he did just that. Sanctions against Serbia were ended in 1995.

Opposition parties

Milošević faced significant Serb opposition at home. The three opposition democratic parties organized a unity coalition called Zajedno prior to the 1996 municipal elections.

Employees of Radio B92 Belgrade on election night, December 1992. (public source)

Employees of Radio B92 Belgrade on election night, December 1992.  (Flickr)

The opposition to Milosovic expressed itself through the newsmagazine Vreme, the radio station B92, the anti-war group Women in Black, and by widespread draft avoidance. While struggling against the powerful state apparatus, the opposition also had to overcome public apathy. They were also hampered by the boycott of the Serbian elections by Kosovo Albanians, which immediately yielded seats either to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) or more extremist nationalist parties elected by Kosovo's Serbs.

Municipal elections in 1996
Zoran Dindic (public source)

Zoran Đinđić (Flickr/Courtesy of World Economic Forum)

Opposition supporters in Belgrade and several large urban centers outvoted Milošević's Socialist Party, and claimed victory in the local elections. Milošević blocked confirmation of the results, prompting three months of peaceful protest before he gave way, and opposition parties took control of fourteen cities. Zoran Đinđić, head of the Democratic Party, became mayor of Belgrade.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in 1997

Milošević, having served two terms as President of Serbia could not stand again, and so ran for the Presidency of Yugoslavia -- previously a position with little power. His selection resulted in increased Montenegrin nervousness over Serbian domination of the Yugoslav federation. Meanwhile, in the run up to the elections the opposition coalition fell apart. Rivalry between leading opposition figures over who would run for the Presidency as the coalition’s candidate resulted in a Democratic Party boycott of the elections.


Vuc Draskovic (courtesy of Mariusz Kubic)

Šešelij was defeated in the final round by the SPS' Milan Milutinović’s. SPS formed a leftist coalition with Yugoslav Left (JUL), headed by Milosevic's wife Mira Marković, which won 110 seats in the Assembly, while Seselj's SRS won 82 seats, and Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) won 45. A government was formed when SPS formed a coalition with Šešelj's SRS, which united the forces of socialism and nationalism

Regime repression intensifies

The Milošević régime intensified pressure against its domestic enemies, which contributed to the increasing criminalization of the state and public life. The harassment and attempts to control radio stations and media outlets like B92 increased. In April 1999, prominent opposition journalist and publisher Slavko Ćuruvija was murdered and an attempt was made on Vuk Drašković's life in October. Former allies of the regime were also killed, including the general secretary of JUL and the paramilitary leader Arkan in January 2000. Some of the killings served to eliminate potential witnesses to Milošević's past actions.

(The Serbian government initiated a journalist-governmental mixed commission in 2013  to assess the progress of investigations into the killings of Serbian journalists during theMilošević period.  Two former state security officials long suspected to have been involved in Ćuruvija's murder were arrested for the crime in Belgrade in January 2014.)

October 2000 election for Federal Presidency

In the meantime, mafia-type killings and assassinations became almost commonplace. A new opposition coalition was formed, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, which this time was able to agree on a single candidate for the Federal Presidency. Milošević was seeking the same position for a second term.

Koštunica wins

Vojislav Kostunica (Courtesy of the Democratic Party of Serbia)


Milošević's opponent was Vojislav Koštunica, a nationalist seen as free of corruption. Drawing on support from the coalition and OTPOR, an anti- Milošević student-led organization, Koštunica took a first round win in the October 2000 election. Milošević disputed the results, but opposition protests were well organized and widespread, and the security forces did not resort to force to quell them. Milošević conceded defeat.

Democratic Opposition of Serbia wins parliamentary elections

In Serbian parliamentary elections in December 2000 the DOS won 176 out of 250 seats, and Đinđić became Prime Minister of Serbia. The Socialist Party of Serbia kept 37 seats, Šešelj's SRS 23, and Arkan's old party, the Party of Serbian Unity, 14.

Milošević extradited to The Hague

Former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milošević was extradited to stand trial at the Hague for war crimes in 2001, but died before a verdict could be reached. (Photo courtesy of The Hague Justice Portal)

On 28 June 2001, the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, Milošević was extradited to the Hague Tribunal to face trial. Immediately afterwards, an international donor's conference pledged over a billion dollars to Serbian reconstruction, and Yugoslavia was readmitted to international organizations. Subsequently, Serbian police filed charges against Milošević for involvement in the murder of his former mentor, Ivan Stambolić, in 2000. (Milošević died in The Hague in March 2006 during his drawn-out war crimes trial.)

Anti-Milošević coalition splinters

The decision to send Milošević to The Hague divided the Serbian public - and the government coalition. Infighting between Koštunica ’s and Đinđić’s parties worsened. In June 2002, Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) withdrew from the Serbian government and parliament after the Đinđić-led Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) replaced 21 DSS members for boycotting assembly meetings.

Koštunica’s position was further weakened when Serbia-Montenegro’s new constitution eliminated his position. He sought election as President of Serbia in October 2002. Although he won a majority of the votes cast, a low turnout resulted in the election being declared invalid. The same non-result was reached in December 2002, and in March 2003 Koštunica stepped down from office and became a private citizen.

Zoran Đinđić assassinated

The funeral of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić (Serbian government website)

That same month Đinđić was assassinated in Belgrade by a group led by Milorad “Legija” Ulemek the head of Serbian Security Service’s Special Operations Unit. Ulemek was captured in 2004 and convicted of the murders of former President Stambolic, activists from Vuk Drašković’s party, and the murder of Đinđić. A state of emergency was declared and security forces conducted widespread arrests of organized crime gang members, who were believed to have been involved in the assassination. Đinđić’s successor Zoran Živković vowed to continue his predecessor’s policy of pursuing integration with Europe.

After Đinđić's death, the Serbian government faced additional problems. Miroljub Labus, who had contested presidential elections against Koštunica and his G17 Plus party, left the DOS coalition in July 2003, accusing the government of playing politics in its removal of the G17 Plus Vice President Mladjan Dinkić from his post of Governor of the National Bank.

Struggle for Serbia’s political direction

Serbian presidential elections held in November 2003 again failed to attract the necessary minimum 50% of registered voters to the polls. The 39% who did go to the polls gave the SRS’ Tomislav Nikolić 46.9% of the vote, while 36% went to Dragoljub Mićunović from the fragmenting DOS coalition.

Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2004 were brought forward to December 2003. In a low turnout, Vojislav Šešelj’s SRS won 82 seats, Vojislav Koštunica’s DSS 53 seats, G17 plus 34 seats, the Democratic Party (DS) 37 seats, and Serbian Renewal Movement (SRM)/New Serbia(NS) 22 seats. The reform-oriented parties could have formed a coalition and achieved a majority in the 250-seat house, if not for the breakup of DOS, personal rivalries, and the DS’s own divided leadership.

Koštunica eventually formed a minority coalition without the participation of DS or SRS, but including G17 plus, SRM-New Serbia, and Milosevic’s Socialist Party.

In the 2004 Presidential elections, the DS’ Boris Tadić defeated the SRS’ Tomislav Nikolić. Tadić took 54% of the vote to Nikolić’s 45% in the second round. Nikolić had come in first in the initial vote, when a number of reformist candidates stood: in the second round, all transferred their support to Tadić, as did Koštunica, thus temporarily suspending the infighting between DSS and DS.

The 2004 local elections were marked by low turnout (35%) and struggles between Tadić’s DS and Nikolić’s SRS. The elections confirmed the decline of Koštunica’s DSS, and the short-lived rise of Bogoljub Karić. A businessman and former Milošević associate, Karić had been a presidential candidate in 2004 and head of the Serbian Strength Movement, a potential third force in Serbian politics. He fled to Russia in 2006 after being charged with embezzling Serbian state funds.

2006 constitutional referendum

Low voter turnout (54% of voters) for the 2006 Constitutional referendum confirmed public disillusionment with politics. The constitution was supported by 52.3% of registered voters. The new constitution asserted Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo and was intended to prevent any future recognition of an independent Kosovo.

2007 parliamentary elections
Cedomir Jovanović (public source)

Cedomir Jovanović (Facebook)

Nikolić’s SRS came in first with 28.32% of the vote, Tadic’s DS in second place with 22.67%, and Koštunica’s DSS in coalition with New Serbia won third place with 16.38%. Other parties passing the 5% threshold were G17 Plus with 6.79%, the Socialist Party with 5.64%. Liberal Democrats coalition with 5.33% led by former Democratic Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanović, and several small ethnic parties. Voter turnout was 60%, somewhat greater than recent elections. Neither Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement nor Karić’s Serbian Strength Movement passed the threshold. The OSCE termed the elections free and fair, and in line with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards.

Democratic bloc government short-lived

DS, DSS-NS and G17 formed a government with a compromise coalition agreement stating that: Kosovo is Serbia, Serbia with Kosovo as one will enter the EU, continuing cooperation with The Hague Tribunal, and fighting against organized crime and corruption.

Koštunica remained as prime minister and compromised his control over the security apparatus. President Tadić headed a national security council with a mandate to coordinate the security agencies. DSS retained the Interior ministry, and DS and DSS agreed to joint administration of the State Security Agency (BIA). DS held a majority of portfolios in the government, including a vice president for European integration, foreign affairs, and defense. DSS gained a new ministry for Kosovo and Metohija.

2008 presidential elections

Velimir Ilić (Courtesy of NoviSrbin)

The SRS’ Nikolić and the DS’ incumbent President Tadić again faced each other. Nikolić and Tadić won 39.99% and 35.39 % of the vote respectively in a first round in January, but neither won the necessary absolute majority. Tadić won the run-off held in February with 51.61 % of the vote. Koštunica’s DSS supported New Serbia leader Velimir Ilić who came in third with 7.43 % of the vote. DSS’ failure to support Tadić  further damaged their ability to work together.

DS forms coalition with the Socialists

Mirko Cvetković (Serbian government website)

After first negotiating with the Radicals (SRS) and Democratic Party (Serbia) (DSS)-New Serbia (NS) on a nationalist-right wing coalition, the Socialists joined a Democratic Party of Serbia (DS)-led coalition. The DS’ Mirko Cvetković became prime minister, the DS took the foreign affairs and security portfolios, including the ministry of Kosovo and Metohija, and the Socialists took the deputy prime minister, interior, infrastructure and energy portfolios. The LDP agreed to support the government from outside the coalition.

Although the SRS and DSS-NS had been pushed into the opposition, the new government did not shift from the old government’s action plan opposing Kosovo independence.


Aleksander Vucic (Courtesy of  Mediija Centar Beograd) 

Meanwhile, the SRS split into extreme nationalist and pragmatist parties. Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić headed the more pragmatic Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which adopted a European-orientation and focused on socio-economic issues and corruption.

Democratic bloc coalition collapses

By March 2008, following Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the tension between Serbia’s Kosovo policy and movement towards EU integration was the last straw for the coalition. The DSS wanted to condition movement toward European integration on EU acceptance of Kosovo as part of Serbia, while DS and G17 insisted on keeping the issues of Kosovo and EU integration separate. G17 leader and Minister of Economy Dinkić’s proposal to stop paying Kosovo’s debt and Koštunica’s opposition also could not be resolved. The governing parties could no longer finesse their differences. They agreed to hold parliamentary elections together with provincial and local elections.

Tadic's DS coalition first in 200 parliamentary elections

The DS-led coalition came in first in the May parliamentary elections with 102 seats, followed by Nikolic’s SRS with 78 seats. Koštunica’s DSS/NS coalition with 30 seats, the Socialist–led coalition with 20 seats, and the LDP with 13 seats. Hungarian, Bosniak and Albanian ethnic minority coalitions won the remaining seven seats.

Neither Tadić’s Democrats nor the Radicals won enough seats to form a parliamentary majority without a coalition. The SPS, the party once led by Milošević but now seeking to define itself as a modern European socialist party, become the kingmaker.

The International Election Observation Mission fielded by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reported that these elections were in line with commitments for democratic elections, despite negative campaigning (threats made to senior officials and posters that could be interpreted as suggesting assassination). The elections were administered professionally and in an atmosphere of confidence.

Nikolic wins 2012 presidential election
Tomislav Nikolic, President of Serbia (Serbian presidential website)

Tomislav Nikolic, President of Serbia (Serbian presidential website)

In May, incumbent President Tadić again faced off against Nikolić in a presidential election. This time, however, Nikolić won 51.12% against Tadić’s 48.88%.  

Parliamentary elections were also held. The SNS-led Get Serbia Moving coalition won 24% of the vote, closely followed by the DS-led coalition Choice for a Better Life, which received 22% of the vote.

OSCE/ODIHR fielded a limited election observation mission.  Its report is available here.

Early parliamentary elections in 2014

Vučić's Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its partners were the big winners in the March 16 vote.  The SNS won a landslide of 48.4% of votes cast and an absolute majority of 158 seats in parliament.  Dačić's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and its partners repeated their previous performance winning 13.5% of the vote and 44 seats; the Democratic Party and its partners, now led by Dragan Đilas, won 6.04% and 19 seats; and Tadić, who had formed the New Democratic Party-Greens after losing DS internal leadership elections to Đilas, won 5.71% and 18 seats. Jovanović 's Liberal Democratic Party and Koštunica's nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) failed to pass the electoral threshold. 

A voter casting his ballot at a polling station in the city of Topola during Serbia's early parliamentary elections, 16 March 2014. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)

A voter casting his ballot at a polling station in the city of Topola during Serbia's parliamentary elections, 16 March 2014. (OSCE/Thomas Rymer)

The campaign focused almost entirely on the economy. Vučić advocated a more liberal, market-oriented model, while Dačić called for more state intervention.  Koštunica later resigned as DSS president after the failure of his Euroskeptic message.

The IEOM's report stated that the elections offered voters a genuine choice, were conducted on a sound legal basis, and fundamental freedoms were respected throughout the campaign. Voters and representatives of political parties, alike, expressed a high degree of trust in the electoral process.  Election commissions at all levels performed their duties efficiently and professionally and met legal deadlines, and the Republic Election Commission adopted decisions in sessions that were open to the media and accredited observers. The IEOM also highlighted the need for further legal reform and increased media pluralism.