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December 1, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 269

You Voted For Nothing

by Dragan Todorovic

It seems that the ruling socialists in Serbia have taken very seriously the grafitti on one of their freshly painted walls saying "All you do is in vain, including this". The message must be the only valid reason for their response to the population in towns and municipalities where the opposition clinched victory, saying that they voted for nothing and that local elections will be held again, presumably until the socialists win !

The opposition face a hard dilemma - whether to accept the fraud and take part in the so-called third round elections, hoping for an even bigger turnout of their supporters and risking another farce, or boycott the event and demand

their rights through legal institutions. Many voters believe that the election results were overruled by local administrators who set themselves a mountain of a task to win as many votes as their mates on federal level. The federal elections, held on November 3, were won overwhelmingly by the Left- Wing Alliance rallying the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia and hardline communists led by president Slobodan Milosevic. Their initiative was most definitely motivated by the awareness that Milosevic's kindness and everything that goes along with it would disappear overnight should they fail to win by a landslide. It remains to be seen how many second chances Milosevic is willing to give them, and just how long the population is prepared to tolerate total disrespect for its will.

The opposition in Uzice achieved results above Serbia's average even in the previous elections, so it was no surprise that they won 38 seats and majority in the local assembly after the second round elections, against the socialists' 29. The surprising moment was the nullifying of nine opposition seats by the local election committee, which made the score dead even. The excuses for such action would hardly be taken seriously even by a comedy director - the socialists complained that an opposition candidate bribed the committee with cheese pie, and that socialist voters were reluctant to walk past some people singing chetnik songs near the polling station. The official explanation was "based" on the fact that an extra ballot paper was found in the box when the votes were counted for the third time round.

The opposition staged a protest rally outside the municipal headquarters, but the authorities paid little or no attention to this. The rally is still in progress, its participants are waiting for a judicial decision which will confirm or overrule their victory. The opposition and their followers are armed with pamphlets, the authorities rest their power on special police forces deployed from towns and municipalities where voters were given a "helping hand" to show "maturity and conciousness" in the elections. In the meantime, the opposition deputies forced their way into the assembly and started a hunger strike, only to be driven out by police, some more forcibly than others. The judicial committee sustained eight and overruled one socialist complaint on November 24, which made the score 30-29 in favour of the opposition and prompted its supporters to opt for participation in the third round, with another 12 seats at stake. Bearing in mind what was done in other towns throughout Serbia, especially Nis and Belgrade, the Uzice judicial committee could almost be called impartial.

One of the opposition deputies, Slobodan Gavrilovic, says that the decision to accept the third round elections was made after consultations with opposition representatives in towns much in the same position as Uzice. Some people, namely street cleaners and waitresses, didn't have the slightest idea what was going on in town, but heard that something was up in Belgrade.

Serbia was on its feet that day. The state-controlled television didn't think so - the headline news were Milosevic's meeting with a PASOK youth delegation, a rise in production and living standards and the pre-election 48-hour silence, which - as the speaker stressed - is respected by the state-owned media. The Uzice opposition say they are determined to win again in the third round. They respect the will of their defiant voters, who won't keep quiet.

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