Elections in the end of September

Nenad. Lj. Stefanovic

SUN, 30 JUL 2000

Belgrade, July 28, 2000 - For years already those who are engaged in analysing the political scene of Serbia have tried again and again to penetrate as deeply as possible into the essence of what Slobodan Milosevic was meaning and planning to do, in the attempt to decipher in time what he is up to in order to come up with an adequate counter move. In the end what usually happens is that from all the complicated scenarios, combinations and speculations, Milosevic plays the simplest and most logical card – the one that enables him to remain in power. And then all those who had for days advocated (primarily Serbian opposition) that Milosevic would again quite certainly come up with some sophisticated logic and calculation, end up surprised all over again.

It seems that the same thing has happened again when it was made public yesterday that on September 24, parliamentary and presidential elections on the federal level would take place, and that on that same day local elections in Serbia will be held. There was certainly no sophisticated logic and calculation in this piece of news because for many months it had been known that the elections would have to be scheduled for the coming autumn.

A lot became clear after July 6, when in less than 24 hours the Constitution of FRY was amended, and then, also expressly, laws were changed with which the ruling coalition tried to pave the way to its new election victory. All these amendments of the Constitution and laws had all more than clear daily political background and made the impression that the changes were introduced for a one-shot and quick use. There is also the impression that the regime is quite aware that it is ruling the country without support of the majority and that it wishes to preserve such a situation at any cost, due to which it decided to hasten the election. Although expected and even announced, scheduling of these elections has partly once again “surprised” many of those who were trying to anticipate Milosevic’s moves for months. That is why it happened that less than 60 days before the just scheduled elections, Serbian opposition still does not have a final stand whether to run in the elections, that it has only the (single) list of candidates for local elections and that it still does not have a presidential candidate in case it decides to run in federal elections.

Milosevic’s pre-election tactics can be brought down to the well known move – to catch the opposition unprepared. The whole party mechanism of the Socialists was set for elections in the second half of October. In the beginning of July, in the ruling coalition they seem to have decided to speed things up, make all election preparations in just ten odd days and push the opposition into the position to have, instead of 60 as prescribed by law, it has only one month for a real election campaign. The calculation is very simple: Serbian opposition will need at least 5 or 6 days to reach the final decision whether it will run in the elections or not at all, and at least just as much to find its presidential candidate and collect 25 thousand signatures necessary for the candidacy. If one takes into account the sluggishness of the opposition mechanism, the complicated procedure of reaching a united stand, the summer vacation season and high temperature (all that was relied on in Milosevic’s team), it is difficult to believe that the real campaign of the part of the opposition which decides to run in the elections can begin before the beginning of September. In the meantime members of the ruling coalition will abundantly use state media for their promotion as well as the fact that they already have prepared and printed the entire propaganda material for the election campaign.

The Socialists, Radicals and YUL-ists are hurrying with the elections not only because the opposition is unprepared, but also because of other factors and details they estimate can be of help to them. The elections were scheduled for September, not October, because at that time students will be engrossed in studying for exams or far from their universities. It may also be cold in October, and it is a question what the situation with heating will be like. Kouchner’s elections in Kosovo are scheduled to take place also in October and they might have an extremely negative effect on the public opinion in Serbia. By October, the international community would have had more time to convince the authorities in Montenegro and Vuk Draskovic to run in the elections and abandon their present quite firm stands. The regime certainly also counts on high abstention and poor turnout of voters which automatically reduces chances of the opposition to win. Certainly the strongest pre-election trump card of the regime, however, is the split of the opposition concerning the dilemma what is to be done in the newly created situation. Except for Draskovic’s Serb Revival Movement (SPO), majority of the opposition believes that at this moment they should run in the elections. Such a decision is not at all easy, of course, in the situation in which it is well known that Milosevic is firmly holding in his hand all instruments of administrative and judicial protection of the election process. The opposition is in fact in the situation which could be described as the state of guaranteed regret – running in the elections could bring regret because it involves the risk of accepting the whole election artifice (primarily the lack of true control of the election process), while decision not to participate in the elections would mean that power was yielded to the regime without any struggle, and the whole political scene is intentionally reduced to the two-party system – the Socialist and the Leftists on one, and the Radicals on the other side.

Those who advocate the thesis – we will regret it if we run in the elections – primarily from the ranks of the Serb Revival Movement, warn that those who run in the election and by doing it enable a new manipulation by the regime and its almost certain victory will assume the responsibility for giving Milosevic a new four-year term in office. Those who advocate the thesis – we will regret if we do not try – answer with a counter-question: “what if Milosevic and his cronies win by only a few ten thousand votes”, that is “will those who are now advocating boycott be ready to assume historic responsibility for new four years of the rule of this regime”. On the other hand, experts for elections processes claim that new election rules have been made in such a way that they deprive boycott of every sense, unless all opposition parties together decide to take such a step. A part of Serbian opposition which seems to have decided to try to compete with the ruling coalition in September, seek justification for this decision concerned for the destiny of the federal state. Leader of Democratic Party and the current chairman of the League for Changes, Zoran Djindjic, claims that, if Milosevic wins in the forthcoming election without a struggle Montenegro will hurry to secede from Yugoslavia such as it is now. President of SPO Vuk Draskovic, quite contrary, warns that running in rump federal elections without the participation of one federal unit, especially in the elections which leave no possibility for a victory, is directly pushing Montenegro away from FRY.

The first reactions to the news on scheduling elections for September 24 show that after being partly “surprised” Serbian opposition might soon reach certain very big decisions – to run in the elections which will not be boycotted only by the biggest opposition party, but also by one federal unit. Nobody is waiting for SPO and Draskovic any more, and among opposition leaders the number of those who are not ready to even out of courtesy invite this party to give up on boycott any more is decreasing. The number of courtesy statements addressed to Podgorica is also decreasing, but the number is increasing of critical comments such as – now they would like us to win against Milosevic on our own although they have made the federal state such as it is together with him.

The opposition has also finally manifested a certain kind of maturity in relation to the stand of international community expressed in last week’s message of German chancellor Gerhard Schroder that the world would not recognise the results of Yugoslav elections. After short confusion caused by this statement, Serbian opposition quickly pulled itself together and stated that it would not boycott the elections just because one of the world leaders recommended it, nor that it would react to every political recommendation coming from abroad. Soon after that it turned out that Schroder’s statement was in fact just an individual stand of German chancellor, and that the opposition, by taking a critical stand towards his statement, gained some self-confidence, and even made some profit. The very next day, the opposition issued a statement that it would run in the elections and that it was searching for a single presidential candidate who will most probably be called Vojislav Kostunica.

Less than two months ago before the elections, it seems that the ruling coalition has quite precisely calculated every detail and that it cannot lose. And that is how with his new skilful manoeuvre, Milosevic has brought the opposition into a hopeless situation in which it will regret whatever it tries to do. Perhaps this is true, but Serbian opposition is starting on the journey to its last “battle”. Against it stand tradition, rules of the game, judges, the ticking clocks, its generally bad shape, and its experience that the most important thing in the elections is just to participate or not to participate, not to win. This time their only chance is that they have no other choice but to win.

Original article