Belgrade Opposition Upbeat

Serbia's opposition, for once, is confident of defeating Milosevic in forthcoming elections.

Belgrade Opposition Upbeat

Serbia's opposition, for once, is confident of defeating Milosevic in forthcoming elections.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, has announced it will field a joint list of candidates for local elections on 24th September, hoping the show of unity will bolster its prospects in the ballot.

DOS represents all Serbian opposition parties except the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO. Vuk Draskovic's party announced recently that it would not participate in any poll which excluded Montenegro. The west-leaning republic has threatened to boycott future elections after constitutional changes undermined its status in the Yugoslavia.

DOS officials have meanwhile been buoyed by good opinion poll results for Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, leader, Vojislav Kostunica, who is widely expected to be appointed opposition candidate for presidential elections which, along with a federal poll, will be held on the same day as the municipal ballot.

The recent stepping up of repression could hurt Milosevic electorally. Research by the Institute of Social Sciences found that in a straight contest he would poll only 28 per cent of votes to Kostunica's 42 per cent.

The Institute did not assess how much Draskovic's withdrawal of support for DOS could cost Kostunica, but what is encouraging is that up to 82 per cent of SPO supporters would vote for the leader of the DSS in a presidential contest. Moreover, the research found Draskovic's own showing against the president lower, at a projected 33 per cent to Milosevic's 28 per cent.

Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic, has also withdrawn his ruling DPS party from the federal elections. Without a serious partner, it will be much harder for the Serbian opposition to make inroads on a federal level, so DOS has been trying to persuade Djukanovic to reconsider.

They have announced yet another set of talks to start in the coming days, but Djukanovic's adviser Miodrag Vukovic dismissed the efforts as "absolutely redundant". Montenegro's stand reflects a prevailing attitude that given the electoral conditions now in place, it is simply not worth taking part.

Yet DOS claim that the opposition now stands its best ever chance of ousting Slobodan Milosevic. In numerous opinion polls, the opposition along with the SPO normally scores at least ten points above the ruling coalition, which rarely registers over 25 per cent. One poll even predicted that a united opposition including the SPO could get 53 per cent of votes, while the best the regime achieved in any poll was 32 per cent.

The Institute for Social Sciences found that only 22 per cent of citizens support an electoral boycott, while 43 per cent oppose it and 35 per cent are undecided. This is encouraging for the DOS, which through a show of unity could minimise the impact of the SPO decision not to take part.

There is apprehension as well as optimism in DOS ranks. One official from the Alliance for Change, the biggest opposition rival to the SPO, admitted that he would feel "much safer if the Draskovic were with us." He hoped that the SPO leader might reconsider. "We have indications that the international community will not support the boycott, so Draskovic may re-enter the game under their pressure," he said.

Draskovic has not been seen in Serbia since he narrowly escaped an assasination attempt at his summer house in Budva, Montenegro, over a month ago. Announcing his party's boycott in Athens, he said, "the SPO will not participate in the forthcoming elections because it does not want to confer legitimacy on constitutional violence, destruction of the state, possible civil war in Montenegro and Serbia, the loss of Kosovo and disintegration of all Serbian national space, including the Republika Srpska."

There are indications that President Milosevic will try to create instability around election time, hoping to discourage opposition voters who are thought to be less loyal than regime voters. Even without Draskovic, the obviously precarious position of the opposition, increasing state repression and an awareness that these elections are probably the last chance for the current generation of politicians, may galvanise support.

DOS optimism was dented however by comments made at last week's G8 meeting in Japan by Michael Steiner, diplomatic adviser to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Steiner reported that both Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister, Guliano D'Amato, had said that the international community would not recognise the results of elections held under Yugoslavia's amended constitution. Diplomats immediately distanced themselves from the comments, but the implication was clear - the international community expects Milosevic to win.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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