Struggle for Serbia’s political direction

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Tomislav Nikolić (Serbian presidential website)

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.

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Šešelj campaign poster (Courtesy of Micki)

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.

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President Boris Tadić (Courtesy of the Atlantic Council)

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
NoviSrbin

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
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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.

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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 2008 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.