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November 10, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 266
Elections ‘96

You Voted Fot It!

by Milan Milosevic

He won again and when he wins we all usually pay the price. Serbia is the only remaining country in the East which never saw a change of the authorities, the basis of a democratic system. At federal level, the democratic forces were defeated worse than in 1990 and at the local level they stand a chance of doing better in towns whose inhabitants account for 40% of the entire population if they get up and their supporters show a will to vote in the second round. Every result in politics has two sides and the opposition, which did not fight to win at the federal elections but for an honorable defeat, is now fighting to survive. If it is eliminated, as some ruling party officials have said, Serbia will be the site of battles between the left (mainly the new rich) and the right (mainly the unhappy poor). That won’t be a political battle.

Although many things are uncertain and unpredictable in this country it seems fairly certain while this article is being written (Wednesday, November 6) that the SPS-JUL-ND coalition will win 1,847,610 votes (42.4% of the votes cast which means 25% of the electorate), about 300,000 votes more than at the republican elections in 1993. However this was accomplished and whatever it means, Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) chief Slobodan Milosevic has won his fifth election in a row.

That means that if you’re sorry we lost a state, that the entire world despises us, if your salary’s low, if you can’t travel the world, if your shoes are falling apart, if you’ve had enough suffering and wonder how long this will last, don’t go after Milosevic but go to your neighbors. That’s called working among the people. State TV polls showed many of them saying they voted for the same authorities that brought us to ruin so that things would get better.

Voters believed that reality is what they see in ads.

In Kragujevac, for example (a goods reserve scandal, factories not working, 30,000 jobless, a two month strike) the ruling party won 69,719 votes and had about 52,000 three years ago. The main critic of the authorities, the Zajedno coalition, won 56,246 and had 71,000 three years ago. Seselj got 6,000 new votes. Something similar happened in Nis (social tensions, an unpopular mayor) where the Socialists won 5,000 votes more than in 1993 and Zajedno lost 10,000.

The left won about 300,000 more votes in Serbia in 1996 than the ruling SPS did at republican elections in 1993. The ruling SPS-JUL-ND coalition is close to the dominant position the authorities held after the first multi-party elections and just prior to the war in 1990 (2.3 million votes). The ruling party’s support was lowest in 1992 when it won 1,359,000 votes but it had an ally in the shape of the Serbian radical Party (SRS) which won 1,066,765 votes. Once the SRS and SPS broke up the socialists increased their voter support by 200,000 but their new partner was the weakest center party - New Democracy.

The results of the latest elections give the Serbian left 64 seats in the federal parliament chamber of citizens. Combined with the 20 seats the Montenegrin ruling democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) won that means they can form a federal government and pass laws (69 seats needed). That majority is not enough to change the constitution which requires a two thirds majority or 92 MPs. This writer is one of the people who believe that the ruling coalition does not want to change the constitution since the federal prime minister now has more powers than the German chancellor -for example- on the condition that laws are in accord with the federal constitution. If the two thirds majority is needed (eight MPs), an offer could be made to Novak Kilibarda’s Montenegrin National Party.

The tendency of the authorities to remain unchanged is perhaps the main reason why the ruling elite tried to prevent the competition from getting its act together. That is probably why the authorities were so nervous, imposed total control over the media and money channels and why it aimed its campaign not against opponents of its new post-Dayton policies - the SRS - but against the group that lent support to Milosevic for Dayton. The leftists renewed their ideological speech and introduced a new political goal; wiping the right off the political scene. That included democratic center parties. Those efforts resulted in an election list full of red capitalists.

The ruling elite’s election victory has far reaching consequences which are dangerous to the democratic center and have strengthened the right with Seselj at its head.

The democratic opposition has suffered a number of defeats here, they learned a little from them but did not grow any stronger. They didn’t expect to win the federal elections and went after local results initially. November 3 was their worst defeat to date because of the unexpectedly low number of votes they won. Zajedno probably won only 969,196 votes much less than the 1.4 million the SPO, DS, DSS and GSS won in 1993.

In 1990, the SPO won 794,786 votes and the DS 374,887, just slightly more than now. Remember that the 1990 elections came before the 1991 spring of fierce political tension. So is this a cycle of rising and falling or a final countdown?

Variations in election results are not the exception on the local political scene. The DS recorded several rises and falls; 374,887 votes won in 1990, 196,347 in 1992 after Kostunica left, and 497,582 in 1993.

The drop of 450,000 votes is reason enough for party leaders to resign, call a party congress and review their strategies. If that happens, the opposition parties could develop their internal party structures and organize their members better.

The Zajedno electorate body is not homogenous and that is shown by examples from some polling stations in Belgrade where the total number of votes the coalition won at federal level is equal the number of votes they won at local level where the DSS stood alone.

Opposition leaders are failing to demonstrate leadership skills. Supporters of some opposition parties usually say the leaders of their coalition partner parties are the limiting factor. Zajedno united at a fairly late date, argued in public over seats. Clashes at local level continued in Belgrade even after that and Zajedno was dogged by the opposition’s bad management of local councils.

Zajedno leader Dragoslav Avramovic was forced to leave the coalition just one week after he got it together, leaving it without a figure voters could identify it with.

The opposition has several excuses at federal level. Every vote the got was won trekking across Serbia, from rally to rally in the worst financial and media conditions to date. Zajedno leaders made much fewer mistakes than before, they matured as speakers, pushed aside their differences and their last pre-election rally in Belgrade did not show the amateurism from the start of the campaign. Media conditions in Serbia are worse than in 1990. There isn’t a single TV station which is not under government influence. There are many newspapers but people don’t have the money to buy them. Businessmen are not eager to work with the opposition and there was a lot less money. The 100,000 posters Zajedno managed to scrape together illustrate the financial shortage.

The united appearance of the SPO, DS, DSS, GSS and independent unions is the biggest union of center parties to date. DEPOS in 1992 included intellectuals, students and a large number of parties but not the DS. In 1993, it went its way without the DS and DSS.

What will the consequences of this union be?

While this article is being written, the Zajedno leaders are licking their wounds and looking to the local elections. The young people who support the opposition are growing tired but do want to hear some good news.

The defeat of Zajedno at the federal elections is just psychological so far since it wouldn’t stand a chance in the federal state. The problems of the federation weren’t the focus of the campaign. Parties devoted more attention to the local elections. But the defeat is far reaching for the November 17 second round and the 1997 republican elections and the political scene in general.

Zajedno leaders are under pressure from the left and right and have been warned off by many of their supporters. They will have to think about consolidating their ranks and returning their MPs to parliament for a year’s worth of fighting for their principles and controlling the government. If they do win the local authorities somewhere they have to show more maturity and less greed.

The Zajedno defeat was not predicted by the three polls VREME commissioned in September and October from the Partner agency, nor the September poll by Mark-Plan although that poll did indicate a large number of undecided voters. The leftist victory was predicted by the Public Opinion Research Center (IDN) but the difference in predictions seemed too big just five days prior to the elections.

The IDN predicted Seselj would get 6.4% of the total votes, i.e. 10.4% of the votes cast while the final results released by the election commission said he won 17.88%. Partner was closer to the mark, giving him 10.4% of the electorate or 15% of the votes cast.

We’re not certain whether the ruling party wanted to see Seselj’s SRS consolidate it’s 779,126 voters since it opposes post-Dayton policies now that the Kosovo issue has to be resolved along with cooperation with the Hague tribunal and the reintegration of Eastern Slavonia into Croatia. That is all a consequence of the attack against the center. Seselj will suit the establishment for a while so that they can show that the right is endangering them but they will be told that Seselj is their own product. If they think about it, they’ll see that Seselj’s return is a settling of accounts for Dayton more than a reaction to internal conditions. The ruling elite is probably counting on being able to control Seselj.

In 1992, Seselj won a million votes with the help of the warmongering state TV. In 1993, he opposed Milosevic’s change of policies and won 595,467 votes after a media campaign. In 1996, Seselj was used by the state media as the frontman for attacks on Zajedno. Kostunica’s attempt to reply to his national rhetoric failed because that is Seselj’s own game.

So Seselj is back in Serbia stronger than Zhirinovski in Russia or Le Pen in France. How did he get past the socialist warning systems? Similarities between them.

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