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

Milosevic Bullish Over Elections

Serbia's ruling Socialists appear increasingly sure of victory in the upcoming local elections.
By Srdjan Staletovic

Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has purged hundreds of party officials in preparation for local elections which it is determined to win.

In the last local poll in 1996, the SPS fared badly, losing control of several major cities, including Belgrade. Faced with defeat, Milosevic attempted to retain control by electoral fraud. Large-scale street protests finally forced him to concede his loss.

The SPS is clearly anxious that this humiliation should not be repeated in the forthcoming poll - a date for which has yet to be announced.

A few days ago Ivica Dacic, SPS spokesman for eight years, was put in charge of the local party in Belgrade. An SPS source told IWPR that Dacic along with other senior officials in Belgrade was told to win the local elections, "by whatever means he can or else he can hope for nothing good."

Purges of local officials have been under way for some months now. In December 606 local party chairmen and 670 party secretaries were removed from their posts in Vojvodina.

The fourth annual SPS congress in Belgrade this week, entitled "Reconstruction, Development, Reform", provided a stage for Milosevic to consolidate his leadership of the party and the SPS's self-proclaimed position as defender of the Serbian people.

Milosevic was re-elected as leader of the party unopposed and by a huge majority. Only six of the 2,314 delegates failed to cast their votes for the president.

Milosevic told the gathered delegates, "The SPS has led our people in a struggle for survival, freedom and independence and has succeeded in persevering in that struggle and coming out the winner."

Meanwhile, the campaign to blacken political opponents continued with SPS General-Secretary Gorica Gajevic branding the opposition as traitors.

The government has already rejected opposition demands for early parliamentary and presidential elections. The opposition parties, united for the time following an agreement between their respective leaders on January 10, now face the prospect of having to carry out their threats to organise mass demonstrations in March.

The government's response to such moves will no doubt be harsh. Recent threats directed at the independent media, warning of "liquidation" and "decontamination", have contributed to the atmosphere of fear. One opposition leader, Nebojsa Covic, warned that this blatant intimidation indicates Milosevic is moving towards declaring a state of emergency.

The SPS, meanwhile, is behaving as if the local elections are already in the bag. In Belgrade at least the indications are clear that should the unthinkable happen and the SPS lose the ballot again, opposition fear that the city will simply be placed under SPS control and the opposition banned.

Srdjan Staletovic is an IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.