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September 6, 1997
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 309
SPS Campaign

Leftist Fist

by Nenad Lj. Stefanovic

Since recently, all officials of the Socialist Party of Serbia have been carrying two pagers in their bags. One of them goes with their mobile telephone, which they all have from before as a matter of course, while the other they received from the party firm under the direction of Zoran Andjelkovic Baki. The second pager is used for receiving and exchanging messages "confined to SPS matters". No personal messages. Several days ago, Baki’s central dispatcher sent the same message to many "Party" pagers: "Tonight, begin pasting elections posters". The day after, the center of Belgrade finally saw the posters of the left, everywhere pasted in the same way — with President of SRY, Slobodan Milosevic above, and presidential candidate Zoran Lilic below, holding up a clenched fist.

With the appearance of the first SPS posters, it became apparent that those who are in charge of marketing for the ruling party this time, had spent in vain huge sums of money in packaging SPS and its presidential candidate Lilic. Milosevic’s posters appear as a blotch and are only recognizable from several feet away, while the more recognizable Lilic is pictured in a pose more appropriate to a May 1 parade in Moscow during the time of Brezhnev — with a clenched fist (what we are seeing, it seems, is a new fashion, as many candidates for the coalition of the left used the same clenched fist gesture of salutation in their last week’s meeting in Sava Center). It seems that even people in SPS are dissatisfied with the look of the posters with which their party is entering the street elections battle against other parties. Some more critical members of the ruling party state jokingly that the posters look as if they had been "conceived somewhere in Varvarin", where the candidate for parliament, Zoran Andjelkovic Baki comes from. He is responsible for many important organizational matters in the pre-election campaign.

Otherwise, the strategy of the coalition of the left for the September elections does not differ greatly from its strategy in November of last year. This time again, everything revolves around the name of Slobodan Milosevic who is expected to shoulder the weight of an insufficiently convincing presidential candidate Zoral Lilic, along with the weight of a majority in the Serbian Parliament. The difference is that last year, the elections preparations and campaign fell mostly to Gorica Gajevic and Nikola Sainovic, while this year that responsibility falls to Mirko Marjanovic, that is to say, to his Government. Thus the Premier who had been blamed by many in SPS for last year’s disaster in local elections, and the loss of power in big cities, had been given the task this time of playing out the game faultlessly and redeeming himself for past errors, including the one Croatia — Partizan 5:0 (In Serbia, Marjanovic’s responsibilities, beside the government, include FK Partizan).

The greatest error committed by Marjanovic and the Government was in November of last year between two elections rounds when it seemed to most Socialists (including the Premier), after the victory at the federal level, that they are sailing smoothly straight ahead. Thus the second round of local elections was welcomed with incomprehensible carelessness. Those close to Milosevic say that he was angriest with Nebojsa Covic and Branislav Ivkovic for the loss in Belgrade, but also with Mirko Marjanovic for the loss of his government. According to some claims, in that meeting, Milosevic threw an ashtray at the Serbian Premier (some say that he missed his target, which is obvious, while others say that he merely threatened to throw the ashtray).

PENSIONS AND WAGES: After the elections loss last November the Socialists took a long time to recover and to hand over power in bigger Serbian cities, licking their wounds after the defeat. After that, they entered a phase of "party consolidation and renewal" in the course of which many officials who had suffered defeat at the local level had been replaced. In analyses of the election defeat, local officials most frequently drew on the following argument: "I can kill myself out there convincing people to come out and vote for us, but if Marjanovic is late with pensions and wages, it’s all to no avail". Judging by all the signs, such criticisms were taken very seriously at the very top, so that this time, the fate of the elections has been placed in the hands of the man who ten months ago managed to successfully avoid Milosevic’s ashtray.

The first assessments from the headquarters indicate that Marjanovic and his Government have performed faultlessly thus far. Everything which was not payed in recent months (pensions, wages, invalids’ benefits) began to be payed on time and promises to continue thus right up to the elections. There will be enough gas, the raising of prices is strictly prohibited, while resource ministers are required to react to all complaints made by injured citizens, and to deal with their cases speedily.

One of the characteristics of this year’s campaign of the Socialists should be a noticeably greater tolerance of political opponents. SPS assessments are that they will mostly fight among each other, that presidential candidate Draskovic will attack presidential candidate Seselj far more frequently (and the other way around) than he will take on the Socialists and Lilic. The infighting of the former members of Coalition Zajedno is largely working to the advantage to the Socialists. "Our objective is to bring out our people into the elections, and then the job will be done. Then we will not be concerned greatly with what it is the opposition is doing", explains a Socialist official who, since recently, is owner of two pagers. SPS is counting on the exceptional stableness of Serbian voters, and they only wish to get their supporters to come out and vote, because they have little chance of winning over the support of other voters. That is why they are not too worried about the joining in of Nebojsa Covic and his Democratic Alternative, or of Vuk Obradovic and his Social Democrats. Covic’s latency will contribute to the former mayor getting far less support from potential supporters than he would have gotten had he entered the race immediately after leaving SPS. The only thing which the Socialists fear, according to our two-pager source, is the up to now impossible to assess affect of the campaign to boycott the elections. In Serbia, there is a general trend toward abstinence from voting. In the last elections, 30% of voters did not vote, and in some areas up to 50% abstained, so that it is feared that in bigger cities, the numbers of abstainers could be uncomfortably high.

THE DIRECTORS OF THE LEFT: Still, there were few surprises on the candidates' lists, which this time, the coalition of the left announced a lot earlier than on previous occasions. The coalition partner, New Democracy (which is looked upon with virtual resentment by many Socialists because of ND’s constant sponging), received a little less than 10% on these lists. JUL, it seems, took something less than last year when many Socialists in the county were disgruntled, but it still continues with about a third of the representation. As far as professional membership is concerned, among the candidates of the left block, MP’s in the republican parliament include 137 directors of public and private firms, 84 officials of these three parties, 53 present MP’s, two agriculturalists and one worker. Keeping in mind such a professional cross section of the candidates list for the coalition of the left, it could be concluded with almost no malice at all that presidential candidate Zoran Lilic sounds pretty convincing in promotional meetings when he says: "Our goal is a rich Serbia".

Otherwise in SPS, there are opinions that Zeljko Simic’s second place in the list for the electoral district of Vozdovac is equally insulting for SPS, as it is for Simic himself. At the head of the list in this electoral district is Surgeon Milovan Bojic of JUL whose rating is exceptionally low among Socialists. "He fled from us to JUL after having really botched things, and I cannot understand how our party top and Simic himself allowed for Bojic to be at the top of the list", states a source for VREME. At the top of the list for Sombor is Milorad Vucelic, who until recently was thought a possible front man for the campaign of the Socialists. That is how it was initially, but Vucelic was later criticized for many things. He is criticized for promising to get Djindjic to participate in the elections, and that he completely incorrectly suggested the direction for SPS policy in Montenegro with unqualified support for Bulatovic. Vucelic’s edging out of the front seat once again put Gorica Gajevic there, whose name often comes up anyway in discussions of positions changes. Her real rating in the party was far lower from the official rating she received as General Secretary of SPS.

Regardless of official ratings and positions on voting lists, everyone with two pagers in SPS knows that there is only one hand in this party records and calculates those figures. In any case, on September 22, everyone will come out in front of Milosevic to report their elections results. And no one, it seems, believes that the ashtray could fly once again.

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