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Vučić easily wins presidential victory to consolidate power across Serbia’s government

Prime minister Aleksandar Vučić easily won the weekend presidential election in Serbia. (Facebook)

For decades, presidential politics in parliamentary democracies were boring affairs — if popular elections were even held for the position, they typically featured technocrats or independents. Politicians, if they ran for what are mostly ceremonial presidencies, would be episodes that ended a successful political career.  

That’s still generally the case in western Europe — presidents like former Labour firebrand Michael D. Higgins in Ireland, one-time foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Germany, and the charismatic communist Giorgio Napolitano in Italy all ended (or are ending) their political careers as figureheads.

But increasingly, in emerging democracies in eastern Europe, it’s becoming a power play for popular prime ministers to wage campaigns for a previously ceremonial presidency, using the ‘mandate’ of popular election as a bid to suffuse the presidency with far more than ceremonial power.

It is a gambit that’s worked in the Czech Republic and in Turkey, where presidents Miloš Zeman (since 2013) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (since 2014) have succeeded, to some degree, in shifting some power from the parliamentary branch of government to the presidential. The Czech Republic remains a parliamentary democracy, but Zeman, who is running for reelection in 2018, shrewdly took advantage of the country’s first direct presidential elections to carve a new role for the Czech presidency in domestic and foreign policymaking. Erdoğan not only won the Turkish presidency, but hopes to formalize constitutional changes to enshrine presidential power in a high-stakes April 16 referendum.

It failed in Slovakia, where sitting prime minister Robert Fico lost the 2014 presidential election to independent businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska. So it’s a power move that can sometimes backfire — Fico managed to remain Slovakian prime minister, but his center-left party dropped from 83 seats to 49 in the National Assembly in last March’s parliamentary elections after a swing of 16% away from Fico’s party.

There will be no such regrets for prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, who easily won a first-round victory with 55% of the vote among an 11-candidate field, cementing control of the Serbian government not only in the hands of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS), but, in particular, under the personal command of Vučić, who nudged incumbent Tomislav Nikolić to stand aside from a reelection bid in late February.

It will make Vučić even more powerful than Boris Tadić, a center-left and pro-EU leader who similarly dominated Serbian politics as president from 2004 to 2012. Though Nikolić narrowly defeated Tadić five years ago in a runoff, Vučić (and not Nikolić) held more sway over Serbian government over the last half-decade, increasing his grip on power over a series of three parliamentary elections between 2012 and 2016. Vučić’s presidential victory means that power is now likely to swing (once again) to the Novi Dvor, the Serbian presidential palace.

Over the next two months, as he prepares to take the presidential oath on May 31, Vučić, who remains prime minister for the time being, is likely to choose one of several cabinet members as his successor — leading names include two independents appointed by Vučić to his cabinet, finance minister Dušan Vujović or public administration minister Ana Brnabić (who would not only be Serbia’s first female prime minister, but its first openly lesbian one, too). Nikolić, over the weekend, hinted that he would retire from party politics altogether, which would seem to eliminate him as prime minister. Former justice minister Nikola Selaković, a rising star within the SNS, is also often mentioned.  Continue reading Vučić easily wins presidential victory to consolidate power across Serbia’s government

Vučić set to consolidate political power in Serbia with 3rd consecutive win

Serbia's prime minister Aleksandar Vučić hopes to renew a four-year mandate in Sunday's snap elections. (Facebook)
Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vučić hopes to renew a four-year mandate in Sunday’s snap elections. (Facebook)

On Sunday, Serbians will go to the polls nearly two years before the current government’s term ends.Serbia_Flag_Icon

The results are hardly in doubt.

Prime minister Aleksandar Vučić is basically guaranteed to return to power by a wide margin, according to nearly every poll taken since the last election. His party, the center-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS, Српска напредна странка), already leads a coalition that enjoys a firm majority in Serbia’s unicameral National Assembly (Народна скупштина).

Originally due by March 2018, Vučić called snap elections in March in a bid to build an even more powerful majority. Vučić argues that a fresh mandate will give his government the space to push Serbia ever closer toward European integration; critics argue that’s a fig leaf to disguise a Vučić power grab, an attempt to squeeze the Serbian political opposition into powerlessness.

Despite problems with self-censorship in the press, Reporters without Borders ranks Serbia 59th in its 2016 press freedom rankings — that’s better than EU members Croatia, Hungary and Italy. Neighboring countries fare far worse — Kosovo ranks 90th, Montenegro ranks 106 and Macedonia ranks 118, just higher than Afghanistan.

With increasingly illiberal figures like Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán thumbing their nose at European Union leaders, Vučić’s rise isn’t without its anxieties.

That’s especially true for the United States and Europe, both of whom have an interest in a country of 7 million that remains, economically and culturally, the anchor of the Balkans region, though Serbia itself shares an alphabet, similar language and a religion with Russia. Serbia is dependent upon Russia for natural gas, as well as a market for exports. In recent years, Vučić has shown that he’s willing to turn to Moscow and other surprising allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, for help when European leaders proved too slow.

That means that the European Union, despite its existential troubles, can’t afford to keep Serbians waiting indefinitely for membership.

Regardless, if polls are correct, Vučić will complete a four-year, three-election cycle that brings the SNS the most powerful domestic government in Serbia’s history following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Regionally, the Serbian vote takes place in the context of a year of explosive potential as Macedonia and Montenegro are also set to go to the polls amid tense political climates.

A pathway to Serbian political dominance

In July 2012, the SNS narrowly defeated the center-left, liberal Democratic Party (DS, Демократска странка) by a margin of 24.1% to 22.1%, following eight years of Democratic Party dominance in Serbia that smoothed the country’s transition from war-torn pariah to EU aspirant.

At the same time, Serbia’s two-term president Boris Tadić also lost his office to SNS leader Tomislav Nikolić. Once more sympathetic to Russia than to the rest of Europe, Nikolić and his acolyte, Vučić, quickly embraced the cause of EU accession. They made a deal with the nationalist, center-left Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS) to take power, even though that meant making the SPS’s leader, Ivica Dačić, once a protégé of strongman Slobodan Milošević (who founded the SPS), Serbia’s new prime minister.

What is past is always present in politics. But that’s especially acute in the case of Serbia, because Nikolić, Vučić and Dačić all began their political lives on the ultranationalist right. Today, however, the three Serbian leaders have (so far, at least) transcended the bitter wars of the 1990s, using the reward of EU accession as a rationale not only to implement IMF-style economic reforms but to make genuine efforts to extradite suspected war criminals from the 1990s and to pacify relations with neighbors, most especially Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not recognize.

The government performed adequately, however. Neither Nikolić nor Vučić made a harsh turn away from the strong EU relations that the Democratic Party nurtured, nor did Dačić suddenly revert to 1990s era ultranationalism. Dačić led the push to open formal negotiations with the European Union for Serbian accession. However begrudgingly, the Dačić government engaged Kosovo over talks about the breakaway region’s international status.

In early 2014, Vučić, then minister of defense, saw an opportunity for the SNS to take power in its own right, and he essentially forced Dačić to call early elections.

It wasn’t a difficult decision, politically, because it instantly made Vučić the most powerful figure in Serbia.


The SNS won easily with 48.4% of the vote and 158 of the 250 seats in the unicameral National Assembly. The second-placed SPS, which would continue in coalition as a junior member, with Dačić serving as Vučić’s new minister of foreign affairs, won 13.5%. The Democratic Party, suffering from a divide between its new leader, former Belgrade mayor Dragan Đilas and Tadić, the future president, who ultimately left to form a new party, the Social Democratic Party (SDS, Социјалдемократска странка). The divide was fatal to Serbia’s democratic center-left, however, because the Democratic Party won just 6.0% and the Tadić-led SDS won just 5.7%.

Bracing for an even larger mandate?

Former prime minister Ivica Dačić, who has been happy to serve since 2014 as foreign minister, is shown here meeting US secretary of state John Kerry in Belgrade last year. (Facebook)
Former prime minister Ivica Dačić, who has been happy to serve since 2014 as foreign minister, is shown here meeting US secretary of state John Kerry in Belgrade last year. (Facebook)

Again, for the next two years, the government performed adequately. Low GDP growth was still strong enough for the unemployment rate to continue declining (though it’s still precariously close to 20%), and Vučić nuzzled ever closer to EU advisors with the hope of advancing negotiations one step closer to EU membership. For now, Vučić hasn’t particularly weakened Serbian democracy on his own, with the kind of anti-liberal steps that Hungary or Poland have taken, though the internal troubles of the opposition may make it seem otherwise. Indeed, Serbia has welcomed refugees in the face of a deluge of Syrians and others on European shores, the largest wave of migrants to Europe since World War II.

Then, at the height of his power, Vučić called fresh elections. Continue reading Vučić set to consolidate political power in Serbia with 3rd consecutive win

Serbian Progressives win huge victory, majority in National Council


Although everyone expected the governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS, Српска напредна странка) to win Serbia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, no one quite expected the Progressives to win such a stunning mandate — the first time in the post-Milošević era that a single party won an outright majority in the Serbian parliament.Serbia_Flag_Icon

Although the Progressives went into Sunday’s election with the largest bloc of seats in the 250-member National Assembly (Народна скупштина), the fluke of the previous elections in May 2012 left the Progressives stuck in coalition with the center-left, nationalist Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), and the Socialist leader Ivica Dačić as prime minister instead of a Progressive prime minister.


RELATED: Who is Aleksandar Vučić?  Meet Serbia’s next prime minister.


Back in 2012, the Progressives were unwilling to enter into coalition with the center-left Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS), and Progressive leader Tomislav Nikolić had just defeated Serbian president Boris Tadić, ending eight years of Tadić-led, Democratic government.  That gave Dačić, whose Socialists finished a surprisingly high third-place in the 2012 elections, the power to decide whether he would enter government with Progressives or with the Democrats.

After weeks of negotiations, Dačić chose the Progressives.  The price for the Progressives was to allow Dačić to become prime minister.

Dačić’s record isn’t incredibly poor — he presided over the official opening of accession talks for Serbia’s ultimate entry into the European Union, his corresponding efforts to integrate Serbia into mainstream Europe have brought Serbia and Kosovo closer to a long-term settlement over Kosovo’s status (and Kosovo’s own future European integration), and the Serbian economy is doing better than it was two years ago, despite a broader push of austerity measures over the 21-month government.

But with polls showing the Progressives with such a wide lead, and with the Serbian left divided between supporters of Tadić and supporters of former Belgrade mayor Dragan Đilas, the tail-wags-the-dog world of a Socialist-led government made increasingly little sense to top SNS leaders, most especially Aleksandar Vučić, the first deputy prime minister who is now set to become Serbia’s prime minister for the next four years.  Even before the Progressives essentially demanded snap elections in January, Vučić and his young, Yale-educated finance minister Lazar Krstic were setting more government policy than Dačić.

Sunday’s election was a landslide for Vučić and the SNS, which outpolled its nearest competitor, Dačić’s SPS, by more than a 3-to-1 margin.  Đilas’s Democrats won  just 6% of the vote, and Tadić, leading the alternative center-left bloc, the New Democratic Party/Greens (NDS, Нова демократска странка — Зелени), won just 5.7% and 18 seats.

serbia NA 2014

Vučić now seems free to push through an ambitious agenda of economic liberalization, including a new bankruptcy law, a looser labor law, an anti-corruption push and accelerated privatization of state industries — with the goal of unleashing a stronger Serbian economy as well as bringing Serbia’s laws and economic policy closer in line with mainstream EU policy.  Although the Progressives will control an absolute majority in the Serbian parliament, Vučić may yet try to bring one or more of the decimated opposition parties into a wider, reform-minded coalition. Continue reading Serbian Progressives win huge victory, majority in National Council

The most important EU success story you’ve never heard? Serbia.


The global media’s attention this weekend will be fixed on Crimea, where a status referendum is almost certainly likely to result in its  annexation into the Russian Federation.European_UnionSerbia_Flag_Icon

But the world’s attention should be on Serbia, which is holding snap elections on March 16 — the same day as the Crimean referendum.  Serbia’s parliamentary elections come just two months after formally opening negotiations to join the European Union, a landmark step in what’s been a decade-long push for greater Serbian-EU integration.

When political commentators tell you that Ukraine is the frontier of the European Union, they’re right that European policymakers have both an economic and security interest in Ukraine’s stability.

But the true frontier of the European Union is the Balkans, and no country is more vital to the future political and economic stability of the region than Serbia, home to over 7 million residents, the most populous of the Balkan states.

Polls show that the outcome of Sunday’s election is almost certain — a wider majority for the center-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS, Српска напредна странка), which as a member of the current coalition government, is working to tackle corruption, liberalize and privatize sectors of the Serbian economy and bring Serbian budget closer to balance — all while the country faces unsteady economic growth and an unemployment rate of 20%.

Notwithstanding the real economic pain today in Serbia, none of that matters as much as the fact of Serbian continuity with respect to European integration.  Though Serbia’s formal accession may take up to a decade, Serbia seems certain to become either the 29th member (or the 30th member, following Montenegro) of the European Union.  What’s more, the most significant fact of Serbian political life in the past two years has been the durability of the national commitment, across all major political parties and ideologies, to Serbia’s eventual EU membership.

Think back to the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.  Or to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that marked the civil war among Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs between 1992 and 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Or to the Serbian aggression over Kosovo that led to  NATO military action against Belgrade in 1998-99 and the emergence of the semi-independent Kosovo today.  Or to the dictatorship of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević from 1987 until 2000, with full-throated support from Moscow.

Though it’s something that we take for granted in the year 2014, it wasn’t always a foregone conclusion that Serbia today would be so united in its push to turn economically and socially toward Europe.

It wasn’t even so clear in 2012.

Nikolić and Dačić: an unlikely pair of EU champions

In the last parliamentary elections in May 2012, the SNS won the greatest number of seats (73) in Serbia’s 250-member National Assembly (Народна скупштина), and the SNS’s Tomislav Nikolić, running for the fifth time, narrowly won the Serbian presidency over incumbent Boris Tadić, whose center-left Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) had governed Serbia since 2004.  Tadić, throughout the 2000s, laid the groundwork for greater cooperation with the European Union.

When Tadić lost power in July 2012, no one knew whether Nikolić and the Serbian Progressives would pursue EU cooperation with the same zeal as the Democrats had.  Nikolić (pictured above, right, with EU foreign affairs high representative Catherine Ashton, middle, and prime minister Ivica Dačić, left) long favored Russia over the European Union, and his first trip abroad as president was to Moscow, where he declared in September 2012, ‘The only thing I love more than Russia is Serbia.’   Continue reading The most important EU success story you’ve never heard? Serbia.

Serbian government pushes forward with early elections


As Serbia takes another step closer to joining the European Union, its government is headed to snap elections on March 16, with the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS, Српска напредна странка) of president Tomislav Nikolić hoping to replace prime minister Ivica Dačić with its own leader, Aleksandar Vučić, after just 18 months since Dačić took office. Serbia_Flag_Icon

Dačić and his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS, Социјалистичка партија Србије) emerged in the May 2012 parliamentary elections as the surprisingly strong third-place winners.  That gave Dačić and the SPS the power to determine whether the new government would comprise an alliance with Nikolić’s center-right Progressives or the center-left Democratic Party (DS, Демократска странка) of former president Boris Tadić.  Nikolić, on his fifth attempt to win the presidency, edged out Tadić in the May 2012 presidential runoff, bringing Tadić’s eight-year tenure to an end.

As the kingmaker for Serbia’s next government, Dačić (pictured above, right, with Nikolić, left) decided to crown himself king — and Dačić became prime minister, though his Socialists, with 44 seats in Serbia’s 250-member National Assembly (Народна скупштина), were technically the junior partner in coalition with the Progressives, which hold 73 seats. (The Democrats currently hold 67, and three more minor parties each hold between 16 and 21 seats).

The Dačić-led government oversaw an economic recovery — a 1.7% contraction in 2012 transformed into an estimated 2.4% expansion in 2013.  In any event, there’s no doubt that the Serbian economy has marked a definite improvement.  Though unemployment remains high at around 20%, it’s fallen from a high of around 25.5% in early 2012.

Moreover, Serbia achieved significant progress on EU membership, with negotiations opening earlier this month and ongoing EU-brokered negotiations on the fragile relationship over the future status of Kosovo, despite concerns in 2012 that Nikolić and the Progressives have historically been closer to Russia than to western Europe and wary of EU accession.  The EU talks will rank among the top issues in the election campaign, including the reform program that Brussels requires as a prelude to membership, which could significantly boost the Serbian economy.

But a year and a half into government, Nikolić and the Progressives believe the time has come for Vučić to assume the premiership — and polls show that Serbians agree.  With a fresh mandate, Vučić will push forward with the EU negotiations, and there’s a chance that a new Progressive-led administration work with the IMF for a package of guarantees to reduce lending costs.

A Faktor poll last week showed that 42.1% of Serbia’s electorate support the Progressives, while just 13.9% support the Democrats and 10.5% support Dačić’s Socialists.  Two other parties achieve significant support: the eurosceptic, conservative Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS, Демократска странка Србије), led by Vojislav Koštunica, Serbia’s president from 2000 to 2003 and prime minister from 2004 and 2008, would win 6.8%; and the free-market liberal, centrist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP, Либерално-демократска партија), led by Čedomir Jovanović and several former Democratic Party members, would win 5%.

Vučić, who became the leader of the Progressive Party in May 2012, serves as the first deputy prime minister, and from July 2012 to August 2013, he also served as Serbia’s defense minister.  As the head of the largest party in government, however, he holds more de facto power that Dačić.  As the Progressive Party leader, he’s taken a strong stance against corruption, and he has played a central role in negotiations with respect to Serbia’s accession to the European Union.  As a member of the once-dominant Serbian Radical Party, Vučić served as minister of information in the late 1990s, when at the young age of age 28, he was responsible for assessing fines against journalists who criticised the government and Serbian president Slobodan Milošević — a stance he has recanted today. Continue reading Serbian government pushes forward with early elections

What can we expect from Serbia’s new Dačić-led government?

Serbia’s new government is set to take office next Monday.

It will be led by Ivica Dačić, the leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), the nationalist, center-left party that finished a surprisingly strong third place in May’s parliamentary elections.

The SPS is perhaps most notorious for being the party that Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević himself founded in the 1990s.  But Dačić, who has been a fixture in Serbian politics since the post-Milošević era, and has previously served as interior minister, has worked to pull his party back into the Serbian mainstream and has vowed that his government will not mark a return to the 1990s.

His government comes after a Hamlet-esque back-and-forth in choosing a coalition partner.  Dačić’s ultimate choice was to form a rather unexpected coalition with the nationalist center-right Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS).  In the May elections, the SNS emerged as a narrow winner — it won a plurality of seats in Serbia’s parliament and its presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolić defeated incumbent Boris Tadić.  Tadić had served as president since 2004 and leads the pro-western, center-left Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS) that has essentially governed Serbia since the fall of Milošević. Continue reading What can we expect from Serbia’s new Dačić-led government?

Serbian parliament maneuvering: DS may not be part of government

UPDATE, May 24: It seems that a rumored SPS-SNS coalition is unlikely, from the words of SPS leader Ivica Dačić himself:

“The story in public that the DS and SNS are being blackmailed is made up and it only serves as an alibi for the fact that there still are no negotiations about the forming of the government,” [Ivica Dačić] added.

* * * * *

Don’t look now, but Serbia’s Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS)  may not be so firmly on the path toward government.

President-elect Tomislav Nikolić’s Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS) may well now have a chance at being part of Serbia’s government as well, leaving former president Boris Tadić firmly in retirement, not the frontrunner for prime minister.

In no uncertain terms, the most important man in Serbia today is Ivica Dačić.


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.

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.

Tadić leads after first presidential vote; DS and Socialists seek to form government

Final election results have been announced in last Sunday’s joint presidential and parliamentary elections in Serbia.

In the parliamentary election, the more nationalist center-right Serbian Progressive Party (Српска напредна странка / SNS) finished first in parliamentary elections, followed closely by the longtime governing center-left Democratic Party (Демократска странка / DS).  The largest surprise, however, was the strength of the third-place winner, the Socialist Party of Serbia (Социјалистичка партија Србије / SPS), the one-time party of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević, but now a nationalist, but firmly pro-EU center-left party in Serbia.

In the presidential race, President Boris Tadić (the DS candidate, pictured above) finished first with 25.31%, followed closely by the SNS candidate, Tomislav Nikolić at 25.03%.  Nikolić is running for the third time against Tadić, who has been Serbia’s president since 2004.  The SPS candidate, Ivica Dačić, won 14.23%.

In the meanwhile, the official results of the parliamentary elections saw the SNS win 73 seats on 24.04% of the vote, the DS win 67 seats on 22.11% of the vote and the SPS win 44 seats on 14.53% of the vote, as predicted by early returns.

Three other parties will have significant representation in the National Assembly as well:

  • Former prime minister Vojislav Koštunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia will hold 21 seats on 7.00% of the vote.
  • The “Turnover” / “U-Turn” coalition of various parties, competing for the first time in 2012, will hold 19 seats on 6.52% of the vote.  The coalition features the Liberal Democratic Party, whose leader Čedomir Jovanović served as deputy prime minister briefly in 2003-04.
  • The United Regions of Serbia coalition, centered around the pro-decentralization, center-right G17 Plus party (whose leader Mlađan Dinkić has served as minister of finance and deputy prime minister in past coalition governments from 2004 to 2011), won 16 seats on 5.49% of the vote.

Dačić last week announced he would support a coalition government headed by the DS (and not the SNS), which makes it likely that Dačić could become prime minister.  Although the two parties hold 117 seats in the National Assembly, they will have to include other small parties, most likely the pro-business United Regions of Serbia group, in order to achieve a majority.

With SNS accusations of vote fraud swirling, and with protests of the prior vote taking place over the weekend, Nikolić announced that he would indeed take part in the May 20 runoff, rather than boycotting the vote.

Tadić, however, leads Nikolić by a margin of 58% to 42% in a poll released earlier this week, with relatively stronger support for Tadić by younger voters.

The candidates are scheduled to debate on Wednesday in advance of the Sunday’s vote.

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.