How will Nikolić presidency affect Serbian diplomacy with Kosovo? (and with Russia and the EU?)

With recently defeated Serbian president Boris Tadić likely to become prime minister, and with his center-left Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) almost certain to control the government, as it has since 2000, Serbia’s domestic policy is unlikely to change much (somewhat curiously, as I discussed earlier), despite a very different president in Tomislav Nikolić.  

But on foreign policy, Nikolić will have a more amorphous — and powerful — hand, as Serbia begins to mark the first transfer of real power from pro-Western, liberal progressive forces that have controlled its government in the 12 years since Serbia was the chief pariah state of Europe.  The one-time ultranationalist Nikolić will have won the presidency just two months after Serbia became an official candidate for membership in the European Union and just two years after Kosovo — populated mainly with ethnic Albanians, but also a significant population of Serbs in the north — declared its independence (yet to be recognized by the United Nations) in 2010.

Today, during the campaign, and really, ever since his departure in 2008 from the more nationalist Radical Party, Nikolić has emphasized that his election would result in continuity for Serbia’s European integration.  But only four years ago, as The New York Times notes in the lede of its profile on Serbia’s new president, Nikolić said it would have been better for Serbia to become a province of Russian than to become a member of the EU.

Indeed, it seems difficult to imagine that Serbia will not have a more intimate relationship in the next four years with Russia: Nikolić will travel to Moscow next week to attend the United Russia congress and to meet with newly inaugurated Russian president Vladimir Putin, a sign that’s already being seen as a rare diplomatic coup for Russia. Continue reading How will Nikolić presidency affect Serbian diplomacy with Kosovo? (and with Russia and the EU?)

Outgoing Serbian president now frontrunner to be prime minister

Following Serbia’s May 20 presidential runoff, which saw longtime challenger Tomislav Nikolić defeat incumbent Boris Tadić, Tadić has emerged as the leading candidate to become prime minister of Serbia.

Nikolić — who was running for the fifth time — won Sunday’s runoff with 51.12% to just 48.88% for Tadić, who had served as president since 2004.  In the prior May 6 vote, Tadić had won 25.31% to just 25.05 for Nikolić.

Despite the fact that Nikolić’s party, the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS), narrowly won the most seats in the simultaneous May 6 parliamentary elections, Tadić ‘s left-wing Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) has been in coalition talks with the third-place Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), which will continue notwithstanding Nikolić’s victory.

The result, however curious, would be to block the new president’s party from government, notwithstanding the fact that the SNS won the greatest number of votes on May 6 and Nikolić won a direct runoff against Tadić — who now seems likely to become prime minister.

In the event that Tadić had won the presidential runoff, it seemed likely that the SPS’s leader, Ivica Dačić, might become prime minister.

Although the SNS holds 73 seats in the 250-member parliament, the DS’s 67 seats and the SPS’s 44 seats bring them just 15 seats shy of a majority.  It is expected that the DS-SPS coalition talks will continue with smaller parties in the coming weeks to form a government — former prime minister Vojislav Koštunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia holds 21 seats, the “U-Turn” coalition of various parties, holds 19 seats, and the federalist United Regions of Serbia coalition won 16 seats.

The DS, in coalition with various partners, has essentially controlled Serbia’s government since the fall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000.  The prime minister has much more power than the president in setting domestic policy.  Although he is seen as more nationalist than Tadić, Nikolić pledged during the campaign that his presidency would mark continuity with Serbia’s integration into the European Union.

ND regains polling momentum against SYRIZA in upcoming Greek election

As predicted, the upcoming (second) Greek election is increasingly looking like a showdown between the two key figures of the pro-bailout and anti-austerity camps — between Antonis Samaras, the leader of the center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) and Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς).

Polls show that New Democracy may be regaining momentum against SYRIZA, which had jumped into the lead in polls following the election and during the coalition talks that failed to produce a viable government.  Each of the two parties can point to polls showing a lead, with nearly a month to go until Greeks return to the polls.  Both parties are polling over 20% after an election in which no single party won over one-fifth of a historically fragmented electorate.

Both leaders are already sniping at one another in advance of June 17 elections, the second in two months in Greece, amid global concern that the possibility of an anti-bailout government’s election could lead to Greece’s exit from the eurozone (with a fear that the process of ‘de-euroization’ has already begun and could well accelerate — capital flowing out of not just Greek banks, but banks in Spain, Portugal and Italy as well).

Tsipras on Tuesday was in Berlin, after a visit to Paris on Monday with popular leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon (pictured above), with the dual goals of calming fears about a potential SYRIZA-led government (Tsipras does not want Greece to leave the eurozone, but would like to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s bailout and austerity measures, four years into a devastating recession) and also building common cause with European leftists.  Tsipras has couched his electoral success in terms of a wider turn across Europe from austerity towards a more growth-oriented policy, as evidenced by the election of leftist anti-austerity François Hollande in France:

“Greece is a link in a chain. If it breaks it is not just the link that is broken but the whole chain. What people have to understand is that the Greek crisis concerns not just Greece but all European people so a common European solution has to be found,” Tsipras told reporters. Continue reading ND regains polling momentum against SYRIZA in upcoming Greek election

Medina apparent winner in Dominican presidential race

Although his opponent is claiming fraud, it appears that Danilo Medina, the candidate of the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (the Dominican Liberation Party) has won Sunday’s presidential election on a vote of 51.21% to just 46.95% for former president Hipólito Mejía, with 99% of the official count complete.

Medina will succeed outgoing PLD president Leonel Fernández, who served as president from 1996 to 2000 and who has served as president since 2004 — Fernández is barred from seeking more than two consecutive terms as president, but his wife, Margarita Cedeño, was Medina’s running mate, fueling speculation that Fernández may yet be viewing a third comeback in 2016.  Cedeño, as first lady, was especially active in health and education policy.

Medina has defeated Mejía of the center-left Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (the Dominican Revolutionary Party). Mejía served from 2000 to 2004 and defeated Medina himself in the 2000 election.  Mejía presided over a banking crisis that led to a faltering economy; in the ensuing eight years, the Dominican economy has been one of the fastest-growing in the Western Hemisphere, especially in marked contrast to Haiti, the other nation with which the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola.

Medina campaigned on a platform of reducing income inequality and reducing unemployment — despite a robust economy, almost a third of Dominicans live under the poverty line.

Although outside observers have not raised any red flags about voting irregularities, Mejía has refused to concede defeat and the PRD has alleged massive voter fraud.