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November 10, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 266
YU Elections 96 - Local Level

Getting Out of a Scrape Locally

by Nenad Lj. Stefanovic

If all which has passed on the federal parliamentary elections proved to be frustrating for the opposition (or as one opposition member stated in an aphorystic manner - "our victory did not show the expected results"), in keeping with the SPS slogan "carry on", something like "we shall carry on together" would apply better to the local elections. In most of the cities in the second round scheduled for November 17 the coalition Zajedno is running with the same or larger number of candidates than the coalition SPS-JUL. A significant number of radicals who had fared incomparably better on the federal than local level appear only in certain places.

Most probably due to this fact, after the first post-election night in which we had already become accustomed to seeing them pale, depressed and with plenty of dark circles, some of the opposition party leaders have on the following day tried to pick themselves up and call the voters to participate in two weeks time in the battles for Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Uzice, Krusevac, Cuprija, Cacak, Valjevo... All the way to Arilje.

The results of the first election round on the local level, where members are elected by a majority rather than proportional system, show that this time what the opposition really has to fight for and that their chances to "take over power" in certain municipalities -which until yesterday stood as impenetrable "SPS strongholds"- are stronger than ever. Naturally, under the condition that prior to the second round the opposition voters stop bearing a resemblance to themselves from the previous election years. As a reminder, following the first round of the elections held in 1992, the opposition in Belgrade was leading in 12 out of 16 municipalities. After the second round, they maintained their majority in only five municipalities.

Namely, on a few occasions it came about that even in "'to be or not to be" situations, the average opposition voter, depressed by defeat on the higher election level, usually slept through the second round at the local level and handed victory over to the socialists. This time, there are more "to be or not to be" situations than ever before, so that the Democratic Party (DS) spokesman Slobodan Vuksanovic claims that on November 17 the only thing that is necessary is to restate the already achieved "historical election victory".

The toughest and probably most uncertain battle on November 17 shall be over Belgrade. After the first election round only four seats have been filled out of the 110 city hall seats. Out of those, the city coalition SPS-JUL (without New Democracy) has won three seats (Cukarica, Grocka, Sopot), while one seat was won by the radicals. In the second round the coalition SPS-JUL enters with 106 candidates, the coalition Zajedno with 84, radicals with 20 and Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with two candidates. Theoretically, everything is open and possible, even the possibility that the coalition Zajedno and Seselj's radicals shall mutually help each other out in the second round even though it is a well known fact that there is no love lost between them. The majority in the Belgrade city hall has, however, become so important an issue that in the name of that, even mutual antagonism (and even loathing) can easily be forgotten. By the already well tested local principle: cringe and vote against somebody.

Of the important city "players" and potential candidates for mayor, the first round was convincingly surmounted only by the present mayor Mr. Nebojsa Covic and the leader of the radicals Dr. Vojislav Seselj. All others are off to the guillotine of the second round. Of the other candidates for mayor, the president of Belgrade's socialists Dr. Branislav Ivkovic and the leader of the Democratic Party (DS) Dr. Zoran Djindjic have good chances to win on November 17 and become (to begin with, city hall delegates). Mr. Slobodan Cerovic upon whom the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) had pinpointed their hopes received only some fifty or so more votes than DS spokesman Slobodan Vuksanovic in the first round in New Belgrade . This practically means that he could easily lose in the second round and therefore not live to "spend three days with Cindy Crawford" which, to him, is equivalent to the pleasure of being the mayor of Belgrade. In the campaign finale even the director of Centroprom, Slobodan Radulovic, was mentioned as a possible mayor. Even though he had invested incredibly large funds into his campaign (his posters were attached to almost every other shop in Belgrade, and cardboard figures with his life-size face were pinned on the imported bologna and cheese products all over C market shops), Radulovic came in next to last with 320 votes in his electoral unit. A similar fate was shared by the second vice-president of the Serbian government -also a New Democracy member- Svetozar Krstic, who never managed to make it to the second round. Belgrade, as well as all other local elections throughout Serbia, have reaffirmed that New Democracy and JUL have justified the scornful name of so-called "seagull parties" which fly behind and "collect remains". Wherever they stood alone and without the protection of Slobodan Milosevic, they encountered total fiasco. The number of seats which these two "seagulls" had won in larger cities of Serbia (the number could be counted on the fingers of one hand), is in an enormous disproportion to the funds and propaganda which were invested by the state media for their promotion (especially JUL's). It is an utterly different matter, naturally, that, with twenty or more donated mandates in the federal parliament, JUL shall present a political party almost equal to the coalition Zajedno. Anyway, the important thing is to make it into parliament once.

In Novi Sad where JUL stood alone and competed for all of the 70 seats in the city hall, only one candidate of this association (party) "survived" the first election round. In Uzice, out of JUL's 61 candidates, not a single one passed, so that JUL members are left to patch things up only in south Serbia (Lebane), where they have shown that they are a party to be seriously reckoned with. The impression of JUL's and ND's amazing defeat on the local level does not fade even in front of the fact that leaders of these parties met three days after the elections and rated their great left coalition victory as proof of the righteousness of the policies which were carried out in the previous period.

As far as Belgrade is concerned, on November 17, as was assumed, a battle shall reign for every street and house. On the city level for that day, many "duels" have been scheduled between the government and the opposition. So that, for example, in one electoral unit in Vracar, on the second round a battle shall be fought between the candidate of the coalition Zajedno and grandson of the chetnik general Draza Mihajlovic, Vojislav Mihajlovic, and actor Milorad Mandic-Manda who played the role of a chetnik in the box office hit movie 'Nice Villages Burn Nicely', while in everyday life he stands for the coalition of the left forces. The new JUL trump card Srdjan Smiljkovic upon whom the honor of being the first to announce the candidature of Slobodan Milosevic for all head functions on the federal level was bestowed, shall stand against Bogoljub Pejcic, the editor-in-chief of Srpska Rec. Another Srpska Rec journalist, Aleksandar Cotric, is all set for battle with the editor-in-chief of the state Borba. The president of the city committee of DS, Dr. Radoje Prica has entered into the second round facing Jovan Ristic, the deputy director of RTS from the SPS-JUL coalition.

Belgrade municipalities shall exhibit no less interesting power struggles. The opposition has already acquired a majority in its traditional stronghold in Vracar, yet it is hard to expect that amongst the future members socialists (this time together with JUL) shall remain without a single seat in the municipal assembly. On these elections, the candidates of the left coalition have markedly improved their positions in the central city municipalities (Stari Grad, Zvezdara, Savski Venac) where they previously had bad ratings. However, a reverse process has come about as well - the opposition has strengthened its positions in certain suburban city municipalities, where until recently the socialists stood invincible. More detailed analysis of the local elections (when all the results shall be known) shall most probably show that this time in many areas the voters have in a certain manner punished previous local authorities, regardless of their party membership. Therefore, for example, the former president of this municipality Dragan Marsicanin (DSS) lost the elections in Vracar, who despite this defeat claims that his party has strengthened its positions in this municipality. Jovan Kazic (Zajedno) and former president of the Stari Grad municipality also failed to make it to the second round. Similar occurrences were noted in other cities throughout Serbia. The former mayor of Pozarevac Kosta Jeremic easily lost votes in the first round to the candidate of the Zajedno coalition.

Judging by the first preliminary results of the local elections and the rather diverse results of these elections in comparison to the federal ones, it could be deduced that a rather large number of people last week resorted to so-called "cross voting" - handing in different ballots for the federal and local level. Experts on the electoral systems and practices claim that "cross voting" is a common occurrence in the West, yet also warning that we are not the West. A partial explanation of why the results for the federal and local elections in certain areas are so diverse can be found in the application of the different electoral systems (proportional and majority) which imply a different count of the votes.

All in all, November 17 remains a great unknown for now even though certain opposition leaders describe it as a "historical chance" and possible breaking point in their existence, taking into account that (theoretically) they are getting the chance to, through local bodies of government, influence at least 40 percent of the Serbian population. From the position of the local authority it is incomparably easier to later construct a "party infrastructure" and network of activists which is how people go about winning the elections. From that position it is undoubtedly easier to dip into funds, which the socialists undoubtedly know best.

Besides flaunting big words, it remains to be seen what the opposition really can achieve on November 17 and whether those who support them shall "come to reaffirm the victory" on that day or whether they shall, as in numerous previous occasions, prefer to go fishing. It is an enigma as for whom the radicals shall vote in the electoral units in which they do not have their own candidates in the second round. All of these factors shall determine whether the political map of Belgrade and Serbia shall be seriously altered on November 17 or whether at the end of the day all that shall remain is a copy of the map as drawn on the federal level.

For now the only thing that is certain is that the left coalition shall in the first week following the elections celebrate their victory by using "drunken superlatives" on the righteousness of their own policies. In the second week, prior to the second round of the local elections, they shall step up and try to complete the business in the municipalities throughout Serbia on the same wave. As far as the opposition is concerned, since last Monday they have been announcing the beginning of the "decisive battle" for Belgrade and many large cities in Serbia. After they had "applied make-up on their black rings" following the defeat on the federal elections, that battle could really be entered into. It appears that the Democratic Party has picked itself up first of all. The president of this party Dr. Zoran Djindjic has announced earlier how he would like to be the first opposition mayor of Belgrade. For such a goal, a number of missing pieces have yet to be put together: that Djindjic becomes a city hall delegate (almost a certainty), that the opposition holds the majority in city hall (rather uncertain) and finally, that his coalition partners accept Djindjic's candidature (also rather uncertain). In any case, Mr. Aleksandar Zet remains seated in Djindjic's election headquarters, who is rumored to have been a marketing team member of the former Paris mayor and present French president Jacques Chirac.

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