Vuk Jeremic Refurns to the Political Stage: On 22 October the opposition People’s Party (NS) held its founding congress in Belgrade. Vuk Jeremic (born 1975) was elected as President of the new party. Vuk Jeremic, educated at the universities of Cambridge, London (UK) and Harvard (USA), was Serbian Foreign Minister from 2007-2012 during the presidency of Boris Tadic. As Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic sought to begin Serbia’s movement towards EU membership whilst also lobbying strongly to persuade other governments not to recognise the independence of Kosovo. He was President of the United Nations General Assembly from 2012-2013. In February 2013 Vuk Jeremic was expelled from the Democratic Party after an acrimonious dispute with Dragan Djilas, the then leader of the Democratic Party. In November 2013 Vuk Jeremic founded the Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) a think-tank, with offices in Belgrade and New York. In 2016 Jeremic was a candidate for the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. He came second to Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, who emerged as the winner in October of that year. Vuk Jeremic stood as an independent candidate in the April 2017 Serbian presidential elections. He gained 5.62% of the vote in an election which was characterised by the dominance of the governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and the fragmentation of the opposition. Vuk Jeremic told the 22 October congress that the People’s Party would ‘reconcile civic and national Serbia’ and ‘fight for a better and more just system which will bring hope, justice, and dignity.’
Supporters and Allies: The People’s Party has attracted the support of a number of figures with previous political experience from other political parties. These include:
- Miroslav Aleksic (born 1978) was elected as First Vice-President of the People’s Party. He was previously President of the People’s Movement of Serbia from 2014 to 2014 and Spokesman for the United Regions of Serbia from 2012 to 2014. Between 2012 and 2016 Miroslav Aleksic was the Mayor of Trstenik in central Serbia. In the April 2016 parliamentary elections he was elected as MP standing on the Alliance for a Better Serbia list.
- Sanda Raskovic Ivic (born 1956), a psychiatrist, was elected as Vice-President of the People’s Party. She had previously, in October 2014, been elected as President of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) after it had failed to clear the electoral threshold in elections held earlier that year. In the April 2016 elections Sanda Raskovic Ivic led the DSS, in alliance with the nationalist Dveri movement, back into parliament, gaining 13 MPs. In July 2016, however, Sanda Raskovic Ivic stepped down as leader of the DSS after a rift opened with other members of the leadership over their readiness to make deals with the governing SNS at local level. In December 2016, having left the DSS Sanda Raskovic Ivic formed a new parliamentary group, For the Salvation of Serbia. She supported Vuk Jeremic in the April 2017 presidential elections.
- Svetozar Cipilic (born 1965), a lecturer in Constitutional Law from Novi Sad, northern Serbia, was elected as Vice-President of the People’s Party. He was previously Minister for Human and Minority Rights from 2008-2011.
- Dijana Vukomanovic (born 1967), a Belgrade University political scientist, was elected as head of the Women’s Organisation of the People’s Party. During the course of her academic career Dijana Vukomanovic worked with a range of international organisations and NGOs, including the World Bank and Freedom House. She joined the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in October 1996 In the period after the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic she worked in co-operation with Ivica Dacic, the new party leader, on the modernisation of the SPS and the re-writing of its party programme. In December 2010 Dijana Vukomanovic was appointed as Vice-President of the SPS. With her academic background and international contacts Dijana Vukomanovic contrasted strongly with the more traditional old guard Socialist Party cadres. In March 2012 Dijana Vukomanovic was elected as an MP and subsequently became head of the SPS parliamentary group. She was also co-ordinator of the Serbia-United Kingdom Parliamentary Friendship Committee. In October 2016, however, Dijana Vukomanovic left the SPS after a rift developed with her party colleagues. In late November 2016 she announced that she would be supporting Vuk Jeremic in the following year’s presidential elections.
The People’s Party has also attracted the support of prominent public figures who are either new to political life or are returning to front-line politics after a period of absence.
- Zdravko Ponos (born 1962) was elected as Vice-President of the People’s Party. He was appointed as Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces in 2006. He was replaced in 2008 following a dispute with Dragan Sutanovac, the then Defence Minister and the current leader of the Democratic Party.
- Sinisa Kovacevic (born 1954) was elected as Vice-President of the People’s Party. He is a noted, award winning, playwright and director of TV, film, and theatre productions.
- Cedomir Antic (born 1974), a high profile historian educated at the Universities of Belgrade and Bristol, was appointed to the Political Council of the People’s Party. Cedomir Antic began his political career as a leading student activist in the 1996/1997 anti-Milosevic protests in Belgrade. In 2002 Cedomir Antic was appointed as the youngest member of the Crown Council advising Crown Prince Alexander Karadjodjevic. Between 2002 and 2006 he was a member of the Presidency of the liberal reformist party, G17 Plus. He subsequently left party politics and in 2007 founded the Progressive Club, a think tank promoting modern Conservatism.
- Vladimir Gajic (born 1965), a prominent lawyer who was elected as President of the Serbian Bar Council in June 2017, has been a strong supporter of the People’s Party and signatory of its pre-foundation ‘Declaration of the People.’ Vladimir Gajic was active in party politics during the 1990s both as a member of the Serbian Renewal Movement led by Vuk Draskovic and the Democratic Party under Zoran Djindjic. After 1996, however, he ended his involvement in party activity whilst remaining active in Serbian public life. He was appointed to the Crown Council as a legal advisor in 2003. Vladimir Gajic returned to party politics after the formation of the Enough is Enough (DJB) movement by Sasa Radulovic in January 2014. Vladimir Gajic was appointed as the DJB representative on the Republic’s Election Commission. In March 2017, however, Vladimir Gajic split with the DJB after he objected to Sasa Radulovic’s decision to run as a candidate in the presidential elections. Vladimir Gajic had reportedly believed that the DJB should support Vuk Jeremic in the elections rather than running their own candidate.
Prospects and Outlook for the People’s Party: After its foundation the People’s Party will face the task of establishing itself on the political landscape amidst diverse and fragmented opposition parties and against the governing and dominant SNS. This will not be an easy task. A recent Serbian opinion poll put support for the SNS at 55% with few of the opposition parties able to clear the 5% electoral threshold. The People’s Party does, however, have a number of potential advantages. Vuk Jeremic as leader is a young and internationally well connected figure. The team that he has established around him includes both well regarded public figures new to politics and experienced party activists. This combination will be important in terms of establishing the party’s profile with the electorate and building its structures. The People’s Party will also need to establish a clear political identity. The People’s Party describes itself as a ‘centre party’ and has attracted supporters from across the political spectrum. The overall profile of the activists who have participated in the foundation of the party gives it the appearance of a party which is broadly on the centre-right of Serbian politics. This may indicate that there is a political niche which it can fill, currently made vacant by the collapse or departure of such centre-right parties over recent years. If the People’s Party is to have wider political success it will, however, have to develop a broad and coherent political message which can appeal to a broad section of the Serbian electorate.