Serbian presidential election too close to call

By bne IntelliNews May 4, 2012

Clare Nuttall in Belgrade -

With two days to go until Serbia's presidential and parliamentary elections on May 6, the Serbian Progressive Party is ahead of Boris Tadic's Democratic Party, while the margin between Tadic and Progressive leader Tomislav Nikolic in the presidential race is too close to call. But the May 6 elections are most likely to be just the precurser to a second-round presidential vote and a round of coalition negotiations in the parliament, meaning it could take weeks or even months before a new government is formed.

Campaigning was intense on the streets of Belgrade on May 3, the final day before two days of campaign silence ahead of polling stations opening on May 6. With 12 candidates in the presidential election and 18 party lists registered for the parliamentary election, rival activists were collaring potential voters from stalls outside cafes and markets to make their case.

Tadic, who resigned from the presidency on April 6 after an eight-year term in office, appeared at a rally in central Belgrade on May 2, in one of the final stops of the campaign trail. In typically media-friendly style, Tadic drew some of the biggest cheers when he listed the international investors that have set up production in Serbia, among them Fiat, Benetton and Samsung.

Tadic's increasingly unpopular Democratic Party rarely features in his campaign posters, but he is fighting strongly to hold onto power in Serbia. His campaign has stressed the achievements of his two terms in power, in particular in foreign investment. At around €2bn, Serbia managed to attract the highest level of foreign investment in the region in 2011, points out Democratic Party MP Konstantin Samofalov. "I think people will focus on our record and decide that voting for stability is in their best interests. I also believe that this party is the best option for the recovery of the economy," he tells bne.

EU flags brandished among the Serbian flags of Tadic supporters highlight what used to be one of the Democratic Party's main selling points - its ambitions for Serbia's accession to the EU. However, this is no longer the case, as the Progressive Party and others have embraced a pro-EU stance, also supporting Serbia's progress towards EU membership.

Other issues high on people's minds include living standards - which are still among the lowest in Europe - and the need to reduce unemployment.

A close finish is expected in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, but the Progressive Party has edged ahead in the last two months, and has been consistently in the lead in almost all polls conducted since the beginning of March 2012. The latest poll by Factor Plus puts the Progressive Party on 33.3% and the Democratic Party on 28.3%.

Nikolic's Progressive Party, which split off from the Radical Party in 2008, has been successful in attracting socially mobile young people in particular, who previously would have been natural Tadic supporters, but have been put off by the Democratic Party's tarnished image after its years in power.

But while one Progressive Party worker expressed optimism about the result, May 6 is likely to be only the start of the process of forming a new government in Serbia. With Tadic and Nicolic neck-and-neck in the presidential polls, this is virtually certain to go to a second round, on May 20.

Meanwhile, the pivotal player within the parliament could end up being neither of the two frontrunners, but the Socialist Party of Serbia, which is set to take third place. The Socialist Party may have the deciding role as to whether to form a government with the Democratic Party. Nikolic has already announced that the [confusingly named] Democratic Party of Serbia, led by Vojislav Kostunica, would be the Progressives' "natural post-election partners for talks".

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