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November 17, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 267
Election Mystery

The Handover

by Milan Milosevic

New political conditions with far reaching significance were created in Serbia following November 17.

The Serbian opposition went through three completely different states in the space of two weeks. First, on the night of November 3, after news of the Zajedno coalition defeat at federal elections, it went through a crying mood of depressive loss.

Then, two weeks later on the night of November 17 and the next day it partied over news of opposition victories in Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis, Cacak, Uzice, Kraljevo, Jagodina.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday (November 19-20) there was a mood of anger over reports that the election committees were annulling election results in towns the opposition won. Protests in Nis, Kraljevo, Pancevo, Jagodina, Belgrade.

The fact that the authorities in Belgrade were handed over peacefully while other towns saw some rigging could have been caused by the initiatives of local power holders who want to save their positions or perhaps by a sly approach by the elite who are trying to do certain things in some towns.

However the latest story ends, political conditions in Serbia will never be the same. The opposition is on the road to winning power or playing an important role in cities and towns which are the centers of development potential, finance, industry, personnel and intellectuals. Sociologist Srecko Mihajlovic told VREME that the opposition got a hot potato and the match ball. The crack in the authorities has appeared and the opposition has a realistic chance of winning the 1997 republican elections if it doesn’t blow it. Opposition leaders are promising to be responsible authorities but we’ll soon see. The opposition said it would liberate Studio B TV first but there are fears that the Serbian government will try to centralize control of the public electronic media.

The authorities have some space to maneuver if they decide to stop their financial support and paralyze public life in cities. This reporter asked Zoran Djindjic informally what he would do if the government cuts supplies of Russian heating gas. Djindjic replied: "We’ll walk to Dedinje to see if Sloba has heating."

A key report suggests that the ruling party has realized it can’t play with the handover of Belgrade for long. The city election committee temporarily declared Zajedno won local elections in the capitol with its 60 local assembly seats. The commission also rejected 460 complaints by the Socialists, annulled the vote in 30 stations mainly because the boxes contained more ballots than registered voters. That might affect the election of 10 councilors but can’t change the overall situation.

To prevent the hiding of opposition faults you have to see whether the electorate changed its views radically in just 15 days. Voters in Belgrade number 1,287,250. In the first round 799,053 voted at local and 803,989 at federal elections. In Belgrade, the SPS won 256,841 votes at local and 306,705 at federal elections. That was 32.14% of active voters at city elections.

Zajedno went into the second round with 24.87% of the vote which means it won 198,760 votes without the DSS and 233,185 at federal elections (with the DSS).

The Serbian Democratic Party (DSS) got 10.51% of the vote in the first round or 84,008 votes.

The Serbian Radical Party went into the second round with 10.51% of the vote or 143,429 local and 169,528 federal votes.

The city election commission said a total of 484,692 voters cast ballots in the second round or 41.27% of the registered electorate. Figures have not been released on the number of votes won in the second round but there are indications that the winner could have got over 250,000 votes in Belgrade.

That means that the opposition leaders can’t hide behind victory in the second round and that they owe their supporters an explanation of where they lost some 400,000 voters who supported then in 1993 at the November elections. Both opposition leaders and voters don’t like talking about that but they seem to realize that their important victory is fragile in terms of voter support and that’s why they’re nervous about a third round.

The Socialists will try to animate their disciplined voters. The Belgrade election committee has decided to send voters notification in writing for the third round which they didn’t do for the second. One advantage for the opposition is the feeling of victory and the belief that the authorities are trying to steal the victory. Considering the most unscrupulous media campaign to date and the fact that the most election results have been annulled in places the opposition won those doubts have credibility.

The consequences of this situation will be far reaching. The second round of the November elections did not bring the cross voting characteristic of US elections. The number of US voters who support a Democrat for president and Republicans for congress has grown from 30% in 1952 to almost 50% in 1984. In politics that is called a split ticket as opposed to a straight ticket which means the vote is for the same side at all levels.

In the second round on November 17 there was no crossing of the line between the opposition and authorities but the level of voter apathy varied. There are exceptions: Lebane, once an SRS bastion, is now JUL dominated.

Politicologist Srbobran Brankovic told VREME jokingly that this is super loyalty: earlier voters lent support to both Milosevic and Seselj now that has shifted to Milosevic and Mira Markovic.

Why was the discipline and motivation of opposition voters greater than that of ruling party voters?

Bankovic said Serbian voters do not have the detailed perception to decide to favor one party over another at one level and a third at another level. The differences in voter behavior in the second round is because a large number of voters favor Milosevic at federal level as the boss, which is patriarchal. At the elections in 1992 and 1993, the scores won by Milosevic and his SPS varied. One poll in the Bosnian Serb Republic by Brankovic’s Medium agency showed that the older parts of the population vote for the ruling SDS there. That means that type of voter is not predestined to vote left or right but has a developed sense of authoritarianism which is more easily manipulated. Most rural communities backed the status quo.

Places the opposition won were ruled by arrogant local despots. Despite media domination and the constant reports on the ruling coalition, the TV machine could not turn those candidates into stars.

Zoran Slavujevic, a researcher at the Social Sciences Institute and a member of the team that predicted the results of the federal elections, told VREME that opposition voters do not identify with the federal state and meet up with the authorities at local level.

He said voters saw too much reporting on the SPS and were fed up. He added that the most important reason is that life is difficult in cities.

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