Serbia: Ruling Party Wins Convincing Victory in Belgrade Elections Against Fragmented Opposition

In the Belgrade assembly elections on 4 March the governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) secured victory by a wide margin. Amongst the opposition the elections confirmed the emergence of new political players, and saw the marginalisation of well established parties.

The SNS led by Aleksandar Vucic, the current President of Serbia, gained 44.99% of the vote. This result means that the SNS has been able to secure its dominance of the political scene in Serbia’s capital, which might have been expected to be a favourable environment for the opposition, and where there had been significant level of civic organisation against the government over schemes such as the controversial Belgrade Waterfront development.  The Socialist Party of Serbia led by Ivica Dacic, the SNS’s coalition ally, in government gained 6.13% of the vote, demonstrating that they were electorally relevant, but also underlining their junior partner status within the government.

The opposition grouping with the highest vote share with 18.9% was the coalition which brought together the Movement of Free Citizens headed by Sasa Jankovic and the People’s Party led by Vuk Jeremic, and had a credible mayoral candidate in Dragan Djilas, who had previously been the Democratic Party mayor of Belgrade from 2008-2013. In forming this alignment these opposition parties and figures showed some capacity for co-operation and compromise.  The Movement for Free Citizens and the People’s Party are both new parties formed after the April 2017 presidential elections in Serbia, and are consequentially, to an extent, political rivals. There has also been bad blood between Vuk Jeremic and Dragan Djilas dating from 2013, when Djilas as party leader expelled Jeremic from the Democratic Party. These parties and individuals nevertheless demonstrated that they had the capacity to work effectively together during the campaign.

The only other list to clear the 5% electoral threshold anf gain seats in the assembly was that headed by Aleksandar Sapic, the current mayor of the New Belgrade municipality, which secured 9.01% of the vote. In addition to his local government role Aleksandar Sapic has a high public profile both due to his former career as a water polo player, and due to his charitable work. His relatively strong showing in the elections, however, appears to confirm a broader trend of voters supporting new groupings and turning away from established parties.

The coalition of Enough is Enough led by Sasa Radulovic and Dveri head by Bosko Obradovic gained 3.7% of the vote. This strange coalition was essentially a marriage of convenience between two ideologically opposed political groupings. Enough is Enough was established by Sasa Radulovic in January 2014 after his departure from the Serbian government in which he served as Minister for the Economy. It was a liberal economically focussed pro-reform organisation.  Enough is Enough polled well in the 2016 parliamentary elections gaining 16 parliamentary seats, but Radulovic’s run for the presidency in April 2017 failed dismally with him winning only 1.41% of the vote. In the run-up to the Belgrade elections Radulovic, having alienated most other mainstream opposition leaders, sought in January 2018 to do a deal with Bosko Obraoovic and the clerico-nationalist Dveri movement. The two leaders justified the formation of this coalition on the grounds that while they had their ideological differences they had a common cause in terms of opposition to the corruption of the existing political system. The result in the Belgrade elections and the failed gamble of co-operating with Dveri may effectively mark the end of Radulovic’s short-lived political career.

 The Lets Not Drown Belgrade (NDB) protest organisation ran candidates in the elections and gained 3.6% of the vote. The NDB was formed in opposition to the Belgrade Waterfront development work on which commenced in September 2015. During 2016/2017 the NDB organised protest meetings, marches, and concerts under their symbol of a large yellow duck. The vote gained by the NDB was, for a non-party grouping, not insignificant, but the organisation might have had greater impact had it not acted alone, but rather as part of a wider opposition alignment.

The Democratic Party (DS) led by Dragan Sutanovac contested the election in coalition with two parties who had previously split off from the DS, the Social Democratic Party led by former Serbian President Boris Tadic, and the New Party led by Zoran Zivkovic. This gathering together of the Democratic Party and its splinter groups did not, however, have a positive electoral impact and the DS gained only 2.4% of the vote. The DS had been one of the main opposition parties in Serbia in the 1990s. In the period after the fall of Milosevic up until 2012 the DS was the dominant party in the Serbian government.  The result in the Belgrade elections, which saw the party pushed to the political margins, was a catastrophe for the DS. Another breakaway party from the DS, the Liberal Democratic Party led by Cedomir Jovanovic also gained a negligible vote in the elections.

Two established political parties with a nationalist orientation also failed to make an electoral impact. The Serbian Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj gained 2.4% of the vote while the Democratic Party of Serbia led by Milos Jovanovic gained 1.1% of the vote.

Luka Maksimovic (Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli), a satirical sppof politician, also headed a list in the Belgrade elections.  He had previously stood as a candidate in the April 2017 Serbian Presidential elections where he had unexpectedly came in third place with 9.42% of the vote. By the time that the local elections came around in March 2018, however, the joke appears to have worn thin and Luka Maksimovic gained only 2.4% of the vote.

What the Belgrade Elections Show: The elections in Belgrade confirm the dominance of the political landscape in Serbia by the SNS, which had been previously demonstrated in the parliamentary elections of 2016 and the presidential elections of 2017. They also show that one of the primary weaknesses of the Serbian opposition is its capacity to fragment and essentially throw votes away. Where the opposition were able to co-operate, as in the Jankovic-Jeremic-Djilas alignment, they were rewarded with a serious share of the vote from the electorate.

     

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