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January 31, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 123
Elections in Krajina

The Return Of The District Strongman

by Filip Svarm

At the first round of presidential elections in Krajina held on December 12, 1993, Mile Martic won 60,000 votes less than Milan Babic. All the analysts who thought that Milosevic had lost the game in Krajina (including us), were greatly mistaken. The Republic of Serb Krajina Elections Committee, after complaints from Martic's headquarters, first annulled the results in the communities of Knin and Benkovac and then in six more electoral units. On December 26, during the second round of elections, the Committee declared around 4,000 ballots invalid, so that Babic ended up with 49.27% of the votes, and didn't become President in the first round. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic, Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj all sent premature expressions of congratulations to Babic.

At the same time, after the official announcement of the results of the first round of voting, the Election Committee, without many explanations, postponed the voting day for the second round for ten days. It is believed that this was the time required by policy makers in Belgrade to work out a new strategy. It came out that peddling Martic beyond all limits of good taste and ignoring his opponent, did not yield the expected results.

Martic accused Babic of trying to win at any price, and of not being interested in anything else. He said that this could result in a situation as complicated as the one in the Cazin region (i.e. mutiny), and that he would withdraw from the presidential race if the members of the Election Committee and voting committees were not changed. The message was clear. Without agreeing to Martic's ultimatum, the elections and the peaceful transition of power would become uncertain, and a coup seemed imminent. If Babic wished to hang onto any of what he had won in the first round, he would not ignore the threat. A television campaign followedaimed at making sure that the Serbs in Krajina voted for the right man. The impression that Milosevic would stop supporting Krajina if its President were not to his liking, was encouraged by a company of journalists of the staterun media reporting from Knin. They accused Babic's team of criminal activities, of wanting a union between Krajina and the Banja Luka region, treachery, an inclination to the opposition in Serbia, etc. The effect of this buildup was felt by Lazar Macura, a man viewed as Babic's right arm. Macura said on Knin TV that Karadzic, who was touring Krajina and canvassing for Martic, ``should not be allowed to do so, since he was a foreign national.'' After this Macura left Knin by bus for Belgrade. A Serb Republic of BH police patrol checking passengers' tickets asked for his passport. On being told that he didn't have it with him, Macura was taken off the bus as a ``foreign national.'' Macura tried to hitch a ride back to Knin, but Karadzic's zealous policemen forbade all drivers from giving him a lift. He was allowed to telephone for a car from Knin, but only after he had spent most of the night at the check point.

Krajina learned what media repression means when Martic's men captured all TV transmitters, and so prevented the work of the proBabic TV Knin. At the same time, statesponsored Serbian RTV Krajina, employing proven cadre and technology from Novi Sad, started broadcasting from Plitvice. RTV Krajina devoted most of its program to footage of Martic's promotional tours, statements and all that Martic's sponsors were saying about Babic in Belgrade.

It is believed that the Serbs in Krajina voted the way they did in the first round of elections out of fear that Milosevic was only waiting for the right moment to drop them. This is the main explanation of Babic's success, since there are few who remember any good during his time in office. Martic started praising Milosevic, always surrounded by people close to Milosevic. His key statement was when he said that he would like to be President of Krajina for five days only, after which he would step down in favor of ``allSerb President Milosevic.'' Many Serbs in Krajina interpreted this as they were supposed to, all the more so as there were no denials from Belgrade. Because, who knows what might happen if Babic were to return. The belief that a conflict with Serbia must be avoided at all costs seems to have tipped the scales, and resulted in a miracle, in Martic's victory in the second round.

Many believe, however, that the media campaign was sufficient to ensure Martic's victory. It is underscored that Babic understands election mechanisms very well, especially those organized according to the rules of local Socialists and their proteges. That is why, according to another explanation, Babic was simply told that he would never be considered suitable for the post of Krajina President. In the end, the Serbs in Krajina had to accept the fact that they had lost the game. Even so, a day after elections, Martic is not riding a high horse. Babic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) holds a majority in the Republic of Serb Krajina Parliament (30 deputies). Along with the 16 Radical deputies, and eventual reinforcements from one of the eight independent deputies, they can topple any mandator proposed by Martic. This is why it is possible that Babic may be offered the post of Prime Minister. Of course, there are two stipulations: the first is that Babic would have to revise his stand (i.e. prove his loyalty to Belgrade), and the second is that the Radicals would have to support him. There is very little likelihood of the first, and the way things stand, the Radicals in Krajina face a split. Namely, a large number of them never supported Radical Party of Serbia (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj's attacks on Milosevic during the parliamentary elections in Serbia. The people know which side their bread is buttered. It has also been learned that Martic has been promising posts in his administration to all and sundry, so that there were many defectors to his side. The director of the newlyfounded Krajina TV is an example to point. The Radicals face a summing up of their activities in ``all the Serb lands'' under the expert leadership of Seselj. But since Seselj no longer enjoys the status he once had in Serbia or in Krajina, a consolidation of ranks need not be expected. Everybody knows who is in charge in Knin and in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale.

The names of Djordje Bjegovic and Boro Mikelic have been mentioned for the post of Prime Minister. Bjegovic has preferred to keep a low profile, and has not stepped on any toes in the leading Krajina circles. He is also known as a neutral figure more adept at carrying out orders than at creating policies. Boro Mikelic is far more interesting. He turned up in Petrinja after Fikret Abdic's Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia was established, or rather, a corridor for supplying Banija through it was ensured. Abdic, or Babo as he is known everywhere, had developed an extensive trading network with Serbs from his center in Velika Kladusa, so that it is reasonable to assume that Mikelic, as a businessman, found it in his interests to do business with Abdic. Mikelic was one of Martic's main canvassers, and Martic often mentioned him as a patriot worthy of admiration. If matters are viewed from the point of view of Belgrade and Zagreb and their aims at normalizing relations, Mikelic could come to be regarded as an important lever for easing tensions with Krajina by following Abdic's methods. But, Martic and Mikelic are not the ones who will be deciding this issue.

It is important to note that Martic, as President, will have very wide constitutional competencies. In the event that the Parliament passes a noconfidence vote in his mandator, Martic can start an initiative for a change of government. By citing a state of war, he can also dissolve Parliament.

Joint statements by Croatia and FR Yugoslavia have made Martic's campaign promises on a speedy unification with mother Serbia very uncertain. A statement by Radovan Karadzic according to which a united Serbia must first have an outlet to the Una River and then to the Kupa River acted as a cold shower. Even though Belgrade and Pale insist that this does not mean the abandoning of the idea of a state in which all Serbs would live together, political life in Krajina is becoming apathetic. A weariness with elections, high politics and television are increasingly evident. An awareness that the Serbs in Krajina are not the ones deciding their fate, was brought home by Martic's first statement after being elected President, when he said on RTS that would surround himself with a team of the most intelligent and competent people from all the Serb lands, i.e., from Serbia and the Serb Republic in BH. Martic's campaign promises include the promise to strengthen the police. One thing is surea top priority will be to ensure that orders from Belgrade are carried through. This is all the more important as the authorities at the municipal level are in the hands of Babic's SDS. It is also interesting that emissaries from the Serb Republic in BH are traversing Krajina and offering relocation to abandoned Moslem and Croat houses in north and eastern Bosnia. For example, the inhabitants of Plasko are planned for relocation to Prijedor and Derventa.

And finally, the conclusion that springs to mind is that Milosevic's plan to pacify Krajina, preparing the ground for an eventual sellout, has gone pretty far. It is up to Martic to smooth things along, even though he might not be fully informed of the role allotted to him in Milosevic's grand design. The future Croatian representative in Belgrade is also satisfied with the choice of Martic for President. If things don't turn out the way have been planned in Karadjordjevo or Geneva by the Croatian and Serbian Presidents, and in the event that someone should rebel, Milan Babic will always be there. In that case a real conflict could break out in Krajina. In that case too, Slobodan Milosevic would not find it difficult to abandon them, saying: how can he help the Serbs in Krajina when they can't even reach an agreement between themselves?

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