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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 12:54 GMT
Why Serbs won't elect a president
Man stands among posters of Vojislav Kostunica and Vojislav Seselj
Serbs are disillusioned by the political landscapes
For a second time, Serbia's voters have failed to turn out in enough numbers to elect their president.

On Sunday, only 45% of voters cast their ballots in a re-run of October's presidential elections. That left the vote short of the 50% turnout needed for the result to count and, as in October, made the poll invalid.


If people don't trust democratic procedures, if government doesn't work on strengthening the influence of democracy, we're really in trouble

Dusan Janjic
Forum for Ethnic Relations
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica says electoral lists are padded with non-existent voters, making the 50% hurdle hard to reach. But this alone doesn't account for the poor turnout.

What has made Serbs so apathetic they can't be bothered to choose a president? Just two years ago they took to the streets en masse to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic and demand a democratic government.

Dusan Janjic, co-ordinator of the Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, says people are disillusioned after hoping for change, but then seeing the new guard indulging in the same practices as the Milosevic regime.

"Our people really distrust democracy," said Mr Janjic.

"If people don't trust democratic procedures, if government doesn't work on strengthening the influence of democracy, we're really in trouble".

He pinpoints three root causes for Sunday's poor turnout:

  • An institutional crisis caused by Milosevic era electoral laws, which impose the 50% threshold
  • Disputes within the political leadership - particularly the power struggle between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic
  • Popular dissatisfaction with the negative effects of economic reform.


[Voters] are fed up with the arguments of politicians but they have doubts about the importance of the president of Serbia

Srdjan Bogosalljavic
Mr Djindjic put the blame for the poor turnout at the door of the candidates - Mr Kostunica, who got almost 60% of the vote and the maverick extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj who won 36%.

He said they had failed to engage the electorate.

But pollster Srdjan Bogosalljavic says the problem is as much the outgoing president as the challengers.

"[Voters] are fed up with the arguments of politicians but they have doubts about the importance of the president of Serbia," he said.

Milan Milutinovic, who currently holds that post, is an old hand from the Milosevic regime.

Like Mr Milosevic, he is indicted for war crimes at the Hague tribunal and he has been almost invisible from the political scene since Mr Kostunica and Mr Djindjic took the helm.

"It's very hard to explain to the population of Serbia that it's an extremely important position now but it was not an extremely important position for the last two years," said Mr Bogosalljavic.

Struggle ahead

So what happens now? Will there be elections again and again until enough people turn up to vote?

Novi Sad anti-Milosevic demonstrations in 1999
The apathy contrasts with the uprising against Milosevic
There's no time frame for a third set of elections.

When Mr Milutinovic steps down in early January, the speaker of the Serbian parliament, Natasa Micic is expected to fill in the position until a successor is found.

In Mr Bogosalljavic's view, a successful third round of elections would be all but impossible.

Instead, he sees Mr Kostunica trying to fight it out with Mr Djindjic.

Mr Kostunica will be out of a job soon when the Yugoslav federation becomes a loose union between Serbia and Montenegro, doing away with his post of Yugoslav president.

He may not yet have his hands on the Serbian presidency, but he will be keen to keep up his influence on the Serbian political scene.

Mr Bogosalljavic expects him to try to bring down Mr Djindzic's administration in the Serbian parliament, provoking early national parliamentary elections.

But, he warns, it will be messy.

"It is not realistic that they will succeed very easily. My expectation is that we will have a whole year of struggle between these two groups".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matthew Price
"It is possible that we will see early parliamentary elections at some point"
See also:

14 Oct 02 | Europe
11 Oct 02 | Europe
09 Aug 02 | Europe
08 Dec 02 | Europe
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