Another unnecessary election in Serbia



One man show (source N1)

Serbia has held parliamentary elections in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014 and will hold early elections in  2016. This is not to mention the elections of the parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, 1992/3, 1996 and 2000.

A citizen who turned 18 in 1990 thus could vote 15 times for parliament in two and a half decades, not to mention the ten presidential elections since 1990. If the frequency of elections where a standard of the quality of democracy,  Serbia would be a great democracy–it is not. Of the 11 Serbian parliamentary elections in the 26 years since the introduction of a multiparty system, 7 were early elections. Some where held because the governing coalition broke apart (i.e. 2008), but most were the result of the ruling party trying to secure an advantage by calling early elections.None of these elections is as gratuitous as the one called just now by Prime Minister Vučić. In the 2014 elections the Serbian Progressive Party secured a majority with 48.35%, greater than any party before it, including the Socialist Party under Milošević at its most successful poll in 1990. It could have ruled alone with a majority of 158 seats of 250, but decided to form a coalition with the Socialists. Its grip on power is strong and there is no conceivable reason why early elections would be necessary (I made a similar argument in 2012, sorry for being repetitive, but it ain’t me calling early elections).

Calling early elections is in the toolbox of populist rulers with an authoritarian streak. Tudjman used a similar tactic in 1995 after the military victory over the rebel Serbs and Gruevski has been calling early elections in Macedonia in the past (even the ones in April are forced by him against the oppositions will).

But why hold elections when you hold a majority in parliament? Such a step might seem risky for an incumbent. After all, one might loose power (and indeed this was the case for Milošević in 2000 and Tadić in 2012).

For Vučić, there are first strategic calculations. Using a high level of popularity and a disunited weak opposition is a good opportunity to put some more year in power “in the bank”–who knows what will be when the next regular elections are due? Furthermore, frequent elections campaigns prevent the opposition from recovering from previous defeats and perpetuates a weak opposition.

There are also more systemic reasons for early elections: As a populist incumbent, Vučić can use elections to mobilize voters and rule as a campaigner. A populist in power is always caught between speaking in the name of the people against the elite–whatever it may be–while actually establishing a new elite. This balancing act is facilitated by elections which pit us vs. them and distract from governing. Second, the current government is based on a one-man-show, Vučić. The dominance of one person of the government and country functions in the context of campaigning, but displays its weaknesses in governing, as the cadres of the party are weak and often incompetent and lack the popularity of the party leader.

It is an election year in the Balkans, besides Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia will also go to the polls in the coming months. However, so far these elections promise little progress in terms of democracy or reforms, but threaten to reaffirm semi-authoritarian rule in the region.





8 Responses to Another unnecessary election in Serbia

  1. stF1 says:

    Besides the country’s economy, that is loaded with the public debt of more than 75%, which was clearly not in the focus of this great article, I would only like to stress out that ruling party has no more than 25% of the entire electorate.
    Voters turnout in previous elections was about 51% of the electorate, of which SNS gathered the percentage mentioned in the article. Basic maths says that half of the half is a quarter 🙂 so the power of the one-man-show PM is practically smaller than it appears at the first glance.
    The question “why the rest of electorate restrains of going out to the polls” will probably give a million dollar answer.

  2. costamagna says:

    Reblogged this on dr. costamagna.

  3. The last elections produced a parliament that was unanimously pro Eu. All this talk about reforms not being able to pass for Eu membership is nonsense. This article makes the good point about keeping the weak opposition radicals dss dveri out of parliament.

  4. ciossa says:

    There’s no doubt that having all those elections is by no means good for the democracy and that it is hard to have any kind of stability in a land where one government in 25 years makes it all the way through their term.

    Still I don’t agree that most elections “were the result of the ruling party trying to secure an advantage by calling early elections”. Let’s take a quick look:

    1990: The first multiparty elections in Serbia since WW2.
    1992: Previous elections were held before Yugoslavia split up. Meanwhile three wars broke out (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia), while the opposition kept pressing Milosevic to hold elections for a long time.
    1993: The ruling coalition (socialists and radicals) broke up, after Milosevic revoked his support for the Bosnian Serb leaders.
    1997: Full term. These elections were boycotted by most of opposition parties.
    2000: These elections were held less than a year ahead of the schedule, but immediately after Milosevic lost federal elections and the former opposition were already in power de facto.
    2003: Again the elections were held a year ahead of the schedule, but less than a year after prime minister Djindjic was assassinated.
    2007: Full term.
    2008: The ruling coalition (democrats and DSS) broke up, after Kostunica distanced himself from the West in the aftermath of Kosovo independence declaration.
    2012: Full term. It was widely known that whoever wins elections would have to make coalition with socialists, who would in turn insist on getting the premiership. This would create an unusual situation, with highest position in the government going to a far smaller party within the coalition. As it turned out, the outcome was decided by the result of the presidential elections – once it was clear that Nikolic beat Tadic, socialists decided to turn their backs to the democrats and make coalition with the progressives.
    2014: In a way, these elections may be considered unnecessary, but they were by no means illogical, as the then vice-prime minister (and the de facto leader of the coalition) insisted on adjusting the power balance within the coalition, which is exactly what happened after this party won a landslide.
    2016: These are the first Serbian elections that may be looked upon as an attempt by the ruling party to secure an advantage by calling them early. Then again, an even better claim would be that they want to tie national to local elections and use huge popularity of their party leader which is supposed to negate the effect of appallingly poor candidates they have on local level (great remark on one-man-show prime minister).

    Unlike the parliamentary elections, there were some instances when presidential elections were seemingly needlessly moved ahead (1992, 2000, 2012), but each time there was a clear goal of using the incumbent president (Milosevic on two occasion, Tadic in 2012) to draw more votes for the party lists at the parliamentary elections that were to be held at the same time. Interestingly enough, the latter two elections ended up in defeat for the presidents and their parties alike.

    All said, the truly sad thing about Serbian politics is that we’ve been watching the same people on all sides for more than 20 years. The apathy in general population has never been greater and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the turnout is lower than ever before.

    • Florian Bieber says:

      I was only referring to the early elections. In my mind of the seven early elections (Yugoslav and Serbian parliamenty) the following fit the criteria: 1992 (Serbian), 1992-3 (Yugoslav), 1993, 2014, 2016 (Serbian), a total of five of seven. Even if we take out 1993 with the break between SRS and SPS, we still have four. Consider also the early presidental elections in 2000 (Yugoslav), and 2012 (Serbian). The point is clear, most elections where not the result of a collapse of ruling coaltions, but because the dominant party wanted to use it for its advantage (including in 2012, the fact that SPS was the old and new coalition partner is case in point).

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