Frivolous Elections and a Heroic Super First Vice President

Late in 2013 three singers calling themselves the “three piggies and the bad wolf zahar” performed the song “the first vice prime minister” for the ever popular/awful entertainment show grand parada, the Serbian version of the Musikantenstadl. What might sound cryptic to an outsider is clear to anybody following Serbian politics: the Prvi Potpredsednik (or short just PPV, V stands for Vlada , government) is a title that formally does not exist, but the job Aleksandar Vučić currently holds. The composer Milutin Popović Zahar claims it to be a humorous tribute to Vučić and judging by his previous ‘tributes’, he is talented in telling from where the wind blows. Among the 2,500 compositions, there is Živela Jugoslavija (Live Yugoslavia!) from the 1980s and more recently Vidovdan.

The musical tribute is just one of the sillier aspects of the growing personality cult surrounding Vučić, who after a year or so of discussions whether early elections should be held, finally announced parliamentary elections for 16th March (officially called by President Nikolić). Just a few days later, as a snow storm blocked the highway Belgrade-Subotica, the new super hero jumped into action. Together with the other Serbian ‘saint’, tenis player Novak Djoković, he himself went to the blocked highway to savee passengers stuck in the snow. This PR stunt in best Putinesque style, unleashed a flurry of mockery on-line, including the above-pictured photos and a number of videos. However, the message in Serbian tabloids was clear.

kurirVučić and Djoković are heroes, while Tadić and Daćić are secretly meeting in Munich (also signaling that the current PM is fair game). For good measure, Kurir also listed what ten public personalities did instead of saving children (such as drinking, watching TV, featuring Čedomir Jovanović, Saša Radulović who recently resigned as minister for the economy and has since been viciously attacked by the media loyal to the governing SNS and, for good measure, Roger Federer).

This is just the beginning of the election campaign for these superfluous parliamentary elections. Serbia has had  more than its fair share of elections over the past 24 years. In addition to three Yugoslav parliamentary elections (1992, 1996, 2000), 10 Serbian presidential elections (1990, 1992, 4 rounds in 1997, 3 failed rounds in 2002, 1 failed round in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2012), Serbia held nine parliamentary elections. Thus, excluding local elections, Serb citizens had the ‘opportunity’ to vote in 22 elections in 24 years. In fact, of all the parliamentary elections since the first ones in 1990 (1990, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011) only three were regular elections (1997 and 2007, 2012). The others were called early because governing coalitions broke down (2003, 2008), or because the ruling party hoped to improve its chances (as in 1992 and 1993), as is the case today.As some earlier parliamentary  elections, the forthcoming elections serve no obvious purpose besides consolidating the SNS political dominance. The current governing coalition is not in crisis and the despite the continuous talk of early elections, this had little to do with bad relations between parties in the coalition or some political difference in terms of substance or style. It is only clear that the junior partner, the Socialist Party (SPS) is likely to be pushed aside after new elections. Being the only party able to form a coalition with both large parties (DS and SNS) last time around, Dačić was able to negotiate a disproportionally large share of political power and this is coming to haunt him now, as Vučić apparently no longer wants to be just PPV, but take over the primeministership. Even though it seems unlikely that his Progressive Party will be able to governing without partners, there is no shortage of potential coalition partners. In fact, candidates are lining up. Thus, last time around the SNS had very few potential coalition partners that could drive up the price for forming a coalition, now SNS will be able to drive down the price and bargain hard. In addition to allies such as Rasim Ljajić’s Socialdemocrats, the Liberal-Democrats have signaled their willingness to join a coalition, as have some minority parties in addition to the Socialists and their partners.

To some degree, it seems merely logical that the most popular party should govern and also lead the government. The construction of the current government has been awkward and meant that for crucial decisions, such as negotiations with Kosovo, not only the prime minister, but also the PPV had to be fully included. The popularity of the SNS is compounded by the weakness of the opposition and thus, a resounding victory seems appropriate. However, the attacks by media close to the SNS on the opposition, the populist reflexes of Vučić and calling for elections when there is no other justification than maximizing power, the risk of Serbia moving towards a populist “demokratura” is real. Already in Macedonia and Republika Srpska, the combination of constant campaigning, the instrumental use of early elections (in Macedonia), reducing space for critical media and the social and nationalist populism of the government has seriously eroded the democratic system and its institutions. If Serbia moves this way, it is important for outsider to look more carefully. So far the temptation for the EU and other outsiders has been to ignore such trends over the government’s willingness to compromise over Kosovo.

 

 

 

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One Response to Frivolous Elections and a Heroic Super First Vice President

  1. Pingback: Another unnecessary election in Serbia | Florian Bieber

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