Fifth time’s a charm as Nikolić wins Serbian presidential race

Just days after protesting election fraud in the first round of Serbia’s presidential and parliamentary elections two weeks ago, Tomislav Nikolić of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS) has won the Serbian presidential runoff today, ousting incumbent Boris Tadić of the center-left / progressive Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS), who has been Serbia’s president since 2004 and who was seeking a third term on Sunday.

Preliminary results gave Nikolić around 49.7% of today’s vote, to just 47.1 for Tadić — if the result holds up and Nikolić becomes president, it will be the first transfer of the Serbian presidency from one party to another party in Serbia since the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000 — in many ways, the 2012 election was Serbia’s first ‘normal’ post-Milošević election, in which the campaign revolved not around foreign policy and the ghosts of Serbia’s past, but rather focused on Serbia’s sagging economy, the falling value of  the dinar, Serbia’s currency, and unemployment rates nearing a continent-high of 25%.

In the first round on May 6, Tadić finished with 25.31%, followed closely by Nikolić with 25.03%.  In each of the past two presidential elections, Nikolić had lost to Tadić, and Tadić seemed likely to triumph again today.  Nikolić had also contested earlier presidential elections in 2000 and in 2003.

Nikolić’s SNS had won the greatest number of seats in Serbia’s parliament on May 6, but look to remain in the opposition after Tadić’s DS has made a preliminary agreement to form a coalition with the third-place leftist/nationalist Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS.

So what can Serbia expect with longtime opposition figure Nikolić as its new president?

Given that the DS will now still largely control domestic policymaking in Serbia, and given the endorsement of Tadić by several other Serbian party leaders, including the SPS’s Ivica Dačić, it had seemed that the momentum was with Tadić, if just narrowly.

On Europe, Nikolić has spent much of his campaign convincing voters that is really, truly pro-Europe, despite a career in which Serbia’s new president has often seemed more comfortable looking to the east rather than to the west.   Although the DS has steered Serbia toward a very pro-European course — Serbia became an official candidate for European Union membership just in March 2012 — both the SNS and the even more nationalist SPS (the SPS was once Milošević’s party) have pledged not to pull Serbia off its course for EU membership.

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