Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic on Brink of Political Oblivion

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia is on course for a momentous landslide victory in this weekend's general election.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Not since the time of Josip Broz Tito has a Serbian election result been more certain.


The December 23 poll is bound to deliver victory to the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, and brush aside the remnants of Slobodan Milosevic's regime.


All opinion polls point to DOS eclipsing its performance in the September 24 federal and presidential elections.


A poll by the Agency of Strategic Marketing, ASM, has the coalition, which includes 18 parties, on 61 per cent, while the Centre for Policy Studies gives DOS an almost unbelievable 79 per cent.


The Centre for Political Research and the Belgrade Institute for Social Sciences, the most reliable pollster to date, showed DOS on 71 per cent in mid-December.


Even at the peak of his popularity in 1990, Milosevic won only 46 per cent of the overall vote.


Srdan Bogosavljevic, director of the Belgrade-based ASM, thinks the rise in DOS's popularity can be explained by two factors. "DOS has gained votes not only of those undecided voters, but also from those who always vote for those in power," he said.


The Centre for Political Research believes the polls reflect the combined impact of the coalition's unity and the rising popularity of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica - DOS's presidential candidate in the September elections.


Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, is still clinging onto second place with 13 per cent - 8 per cent more than is needed to ensure a continued presence in the Serbian parliament. Pollsters warn, however, there is a possibility people are too embarrassed to say openly they intend to vote SPS, but may in fact do so in the privacy of the polling booth.


Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, SRS, is in third place with seven per cent, while Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, is on six per cent.


Seselj appears to have stemmed the dwindling popularity of his party and should secure the minimum five per cent needed to guarantee at least a seat in the assembly.


Draskovic's political future looks less certain. The SPO has suffered a catastrophic drop in support following its decision not join DOS ahead of the September elections and to put up a rival candidate to Kostunica for the presidency.


Many of Serbia's recent leaders look doomed to fall below the five per cent barrier. The Party of the Yugoslav Left, led by Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic, can expect less then three per cent. The same applies for the newly founded Democratic Socialist Party, set up by former Milosevic loyalist Milorad Vucelic, and the Serbian Social Democratic Party, also established by recent Milosevic deserter, Zoran Lilic.


DOS's dominance explains why this election campaign has passed by so quietly- there have been no rallies and few posters on the streets.


Belgrade sociologist Srecko Mihajlovic calls the phenomenon 'victorious abstinence'. "People think it's all over and that they don't need to turn out anymore," he said.


For the first time in a decade of multi-party politics in Serbia, the state-owned media, now controlled by DOS, have dispensed with strident electioneering. Their support for DOS is clear, but they have avoided the hate speech typical of previous campaigns run during the Milosevic era.


In fact, the SPS has been deprived of virtually all means of running a campaign. Hostility towards the party is so intense on the ground that activists are unable to approach voters directly.


The head of the SPS's election headquarters, Zoran Andjelkovic, has attempted to campaign on recent price rises and the alleged failure of the new authorities to prevent attacks by Kosovo Albanian extremists on Serbian police officers in the south of the country.


In his most recent campaign appearance on Belgrade's TV Palma, Milosevic asked plaintively, "Is there anyone who can't see the situation is worse now than at the end of September?"


Clearly few people agree with Milosevic's analysis. The best his party can hope for is survival, at least a few seats in parliament.


DOS has organised a ten-day 70-town tour of the country as part of its campaign. Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party and Kostunica's candidate for Serbian prime minister, was very much at the forefront.


Djindjic is eager to grab his piece of the cake after December 23. On his grand tour he made a point of meeting local businessmen and appeared intent on forming his own network and power base.


Since October, Djindjic and Kostunica have had a series of disagreements. Kostunica as federal president - although more popular than his rival - actually exercises quite limited influence.


Real political power rests with the republican governments in Belgrade and Podgorica. As Serbian prime minister, Djindjic would wield considerable authority. Kostunica only reluctantly agreed to his nomination as a concession for his pivotal role in founding DOS and leading it to election victory in September.


Djindjic, confident and determined to seize the initiative, announced the composition of his future cabinet 20 days before the election. The DP leader is not however a popular politician and his prominent role at the head of DOS could cost the coalition votes on December 23.


No one in DOS expects the coalition to survive after this weekend's ballot. As a result, all the leading players are busy jostling to secure strong positions now. Serbia's post-election political scene is likely to be coloured by the battle for political supremacy between Kostunica and Djindjic.


The winners will surely face many challenges. On the domestic front, significant purges of the judiciary and police must be carried out. Privatisation, not fully implemented under Milosevic, needs to be pushed forward and a legal framework established for foreign investment.


Then there is the question of Montenegro and its future ties, or otherwise, with the Yugoslav federation. Relations with Kosovo also need to be addressed, especially in light of the recent violence on the province's south-eastern border with Serbia.


After the elections Serbia will have to face the demands of the international community for co-operation with The Hague war crimes tribunal, including the extradition of indictees, especially Milosevic. To date, the international community has been patient, concerned not to jeopardise the electoral appeal of DOS and Kostunica.


DOS has offered strong hints Milosevic could be arrested after the election and tried in Serbia for crimes against his people. Such a move is unlikely to appease the international community or Serbia's more immediate Balkan neighbours.


DOS may well coast into power, but it faces difficult times ahead.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor.