Serbia marks ‘normal’ election: Tadić, Nikolić head to presidential runoff

As voters in France and Greece upended the pro-austerity front of the European Union Sunday, elections in Serbia confirmed the normalization of a country that just two decades ago was one of the most dangerous belligerents in the world.

Serbia went to the polls Sunday for both presidential and parliamentary elections in what is being billed as the first normalized election since the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000.  Although the new government is not yet clear, it will be certain to be a pro-European government dedicated to furthering Serbia’s candidacy — formally granted in March — as a member of the European Union.

In the presidential election, incumbent Boris Tadić finished first with around 26.7% of the vote, with Tomislav Nikolić just behind with around 25.5%.  The two will face off in a runoff vote to be held on May 20.  Tadić, a member of the center-left / progressive Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) that has governed Serbia since the fall of Milošević, was first elected president in 2004 and is seeking a third term.  Tadić has twice defeated Nikolić in prior presidential elections, with just over 53% in 2004 and just over 50% in 2008.  Nikolić is a member of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS).

Although the SPS is more pro-Russia than the DS, it has worked to convince Serbian voters that it backs the country’s EU membership.  Indeed, Nick Thorpe writes for the BBC that the “old split between pro-European and pro-Russian parties, is over,” with most major parties supporting EU membership.

Instead of East-West foreign policy orientation, the election has turned on dissatisfaction with the DS amid Serbia’s poor economic performance.  Unemployment has jumped to over 24%, while economic growth has stalled to near-recession levels in 2012.  Serbia’s public debt has ballooned and its currency, the dinar, has lost 30% in value.

In the parliamentary elections, Nikolić’s SNS emerged with the largest vote, with 24% to just 22% for Tadić’s DS — although the SNS had been projected to win the election, its margin was expected to be wider.  The election’s big surprise was the success of the Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), which won a strong third-place finish with 14.5%.  The SPS, a vaguely leftist and vaguely nationalist party that Milošević himself founded, will now become the kingmaker in Serbian parliamentary politics.  SNS is projected to win 73 seats in the 250-seat national assembly, with 67 seats for the DS and 44 seats for the SPS.

The SPS leader, Ivica Dačić, a one-time ally of Milošević , has worked to pull the SPS back into the mainstream of Serbian politics in the post-Milošević era.  Dačić is now widely seen as the likeliest candidate for prime minister, in either a coalition with the DS or with the SPS.  Dačić has said that he wants to hold talks first with the DS.  Dačić finished third in the presidential election, with around 17%, and his endorsement may well be decisive in that rade as well.

Final results are expected to be announced on Thursday.

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