Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.

Here’s the key fact about parliamentary politics in Serbia: the biggest single party is the Serbian Radical Party, which is the party of evil dickhead nationalists.

In the last election (2003), the Radicals got 27.6% of the vote, which gave them 82 seats in the 250-member Parliament. In this election, they got 28.3% of the vote, which will give them 81 seats in Parliament. From this we can reasonably infer that the Radicals have a pretty solid base, and are not going away any time soon.

Further: the next two largest parties, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia (different… yes, it is confusing) will get just 65 and 47 seats each.

The problem here is that as long as the Radicals get around a third of the seats in Parliament, and no other party gets as many, any Serbian government will have to include almost every other party. And the other parties hate each other almost as much as they all hate and fear the Radicals.

Here are the numbers (subject to tweaking as final results trickle in):



As noted, the Radicals are the obnoxious xenophobic populist-nationalist party. They’re radioactive — no government can form a coalition that includes them, because that would instantly send Serbia back to pariah status and sink Serbia’s (faint) hopes of EU candidacy. (The party leader is currently in the middle of a war crimes trial at the Hague.) But they can’t be ignored, either.

Democrats (DS)


Party of late Prime Minister Djindjic and current President Boris Tadic, these guys will get first crack at forming a government. Good luck with that. The Democrats are sort of a party of the center-left, if such things have any meaning in Serbia. They got hit hard with corruption issues in 2003-4, but have bounced back under the relatively popular President. Insofar as there’s a winner here, it’s DS — they nearly doubled their seats, up from 37 the last time.

Democrats of Serbia (DSS)


Party of current Prime Minister Kostunica. Sort of a party of the center-right with a populist streak. They’re the respectable nationalists. Kostunica has trouble getting along with other politicians, and DS and DSS hate each other a lot. They’re natural enemies who have been forced into coalition. Serbia is not Germany, so this has not worked so well. (Not that it’s necessarily working great in Germany, but you get the idea.)

Like most incumbent governments in this part of the world, DSS expected to take it on the chin. Under the circumstances, they didn’t do so badly, losing just six seats (47 down from 53).



The liberal Europhile urban technocrats. (Man, isn’t that a weird name for a party? To me it sounds more like a high-end shampoo.) They just squeaked back in with under 6% of the vote — 5% was needed to get seats. They managed to severely discredit themselves in the previous government, partly through internal confusion, partly because they were everyone else’s favorite hapless whipping boy. Down from 34 seats last time… a big hit, but on the other hand, it wasn’t clear they’d even survive.



Milosevic’s old party, leftover Communists and whatnot who have been wiggling their way back towards respectability. The only ones who would form a government with the Radicals. Down from 22 MPs last time, another one that just barely survived.

Liberal Democrat coalition


Man, I’m not even going to try to explain these guys. A coalition of several minor parties, not particularly liberal or democratic. Dominated by former Djindjic protege Cedomir Jovanovic, a handsome fellow who is perhaps the single strangest major player in Serbian politics. (Someone described him as “Act Three of a five-act Chekhov play”.)



After the last election, the rules were amended so that parties representing ethnic minorities could get into Parliament with just 0.4% of the vote. So, some Hungarians. (Some other Hungarians joined the LD coalition. In fact, almost every minority in Serbia has at least two parties, and some have four or five.



Okay, strictly speaking these are the Muslim Serbs who live down in the Sandjak, which is between Montenegro and Bosnia. They’re not supposed to be Bosniaks; they’re Muslim Serbs. Of course, this begs the question of what Bosniaks are… but anyhow, these guys pretty much sat out the wars (having a large army base overlooking their major town may have been an issue here) but have a lot of complicated internal politics. Well, like everyone else in Serbia.



Aaaaand the Roma. Two parties, one squeaked in. Have there been any Roma in Serbian politics before? Probably one or two under Communism.

Interestingly absent from this list: the Serbian Renewal Party of Vuk Draskovic. They joined with the DSS in a deal that put Draskovic on a short leash, the other end of which will be held by Kostunica. (If you don’t know who Vuk Draskovic is, don’t worry — you’re not missing much.)

So. 250 seats, 126 needed to form a government. Who you gonna call?

Look at those numbers again. The Radicals are pariahs. The DSS and DS hate each other… but it is impossible for either to form a government without the other! Put both Radicals and DSS in opposition, and you have an “opposition” of 127 votes. D’oh! And, of course, putting DS into opposition is even worse.

So, unless something totally bizarre happens, we’re going to see another government built around a DS-DSS entente. And even that only gives 112 votes, so they’ll have to tack on a third coalition partner, either G17 or the Liberal Democrat mess. Both of those will complicate matters mightily.

Having said this, I must add that this could be better — slightly — than the last government, which was a truly ridiculous Frankenstein monster of a coalition, with liberals, conservatives, technocrats, socialists, monarchists, mystical nationalists, and, really, the kitchen sink. This one may at least have fewer actors.

On the other hand, Marti Ahtisaari goes live with his “proposal” for Kosovo in the first week of February. That should have an interesting effect on things. Order your tickets now.

All in all, not wonderful, but probably about as good as could be expected.


15 thoughts on “Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

  1. This is what happens when people can’t put their differences aside, compromise and work towards a common cause. Happens in Italy, Russia, and a lot of other places.. while the ones with ‘good ideas’ bicker and debate, the mad crazies organize themselves together and beat ’em all! :/ Unity is the only way!

  2. Liberal Democrats not liberal? FYI, that’s as liberal as it gets in Serbia. I guess they are a “mess” in your opinion because they don’t play games and are honest enough to call things by their right names (unlike other parties). They don’t use cheap nationalist/populist rhetoric and are very honest and realistic when it comes to the Kosovo problem. There will be no compromising or unity with murderers, war criminals and their supporters! Never!

  3. I just cant understand Serbia anymore. These uber-nationalist policies, which before promised them a greater Serbia, have instead made them the laughing stock of Europe. Territories were lost, infrastructure bombed to hell and any prospect of a ‘Greater’ Serbia chucked out the window.

    What the hell do they wish to accomplish now???

  4. It is so cool, oh feels so, so good and mighty to punch down the underdogs and pariahs that Serbia has been forced into being for so many years. Ridiculing a group of people and dissecting their politics to seemingly surrealist meaning (read: they are all crazy there, but we knew that anyhow)is a fashionable new racism of sorts, stemming from an extremely uncomfortable mirror image of the Bushite led spreading of democracy throughout the world – yes, they ARE all crazy and we will teach them to be sane (read: resemble more of what Bush stands for). The hypocrisy of the so-called civilized West continues, and it so, so easy to accomplish it this way. Honorable journalism, no doubt.

  5. “Liberal Democrats not liberal? FYI, that’s as liberal as it gets in Serbia.”

    We get into questions of definitions here, but Cedo… well, while I like a lot of his positions (he’s the only politician in touch with reality on Kosovo IMO) the man himself creeps me out more than a bit. Too popular and too powerful too young, or so ISTM, and he’s never quite recovered from it. And the coalition he leads can charitably be described as “incoherent”.

    Mike: a lot of the support for SPS (though by no means all!) comes from people who have not done well since 2001. Also, nationalism is just incredibly powerful, and SPS is just banging on that exposed nerve.

    Note, BTW, that SPS doesn’t explicitly say it’s going after Greater Serbia. (It is, after all, impossible.) No, they just talk a lot about “protecting Serbs wherever they are” and “making us proud again”.

    Doug M.

  6. While the author might not have chose the most appropriate rhetoric for this topic. The fact remains; the radicals today are the same as those before the war. They are the reason Serbia is the underdog you speak of and they are the reason NATO destroyed Serbian infrastructure. They are also the reason that ‘greater’ Serbia is in the state it is today.

    I understand Serbs are pissed(not that its justified) and this is a way to give the middle finger to the west. But for the sake of the future generations of Serbia when will people learn that they are only hurting themselves.

  7. The election results are better than anyone knowing the situation in Serbia could expect!
    After all democrat parties (or more or less democrat) got 2/3 of the votes.
    As for the Radical party, it attracts different layers of society, predominantly it is national party, but having not been in the government after 2000 it also attracts people who are poor, who see no perspective, who are not satisfied with the life in Serbia nowdays. It keeps promissing better life and – Kosovo, that will never get the independence.
    The problem now is the great difference in political programme that exists between KoÅ¡tunica and Tadić, and that may complicate the forming of the goverment. Should there be another election – especially after the solution about Kosovo is known – I am afraid Radical party will be not only the winner, but will also then be the one who will form the government. I would not like to see that happen!

  8. While the author might not have chose the most appropriate rhetoric for this topic

    Blogs are not journalism. That’s why I can use phrases like “dickhead nationalist” here.

    True, freedom is not license. And a little of this sort of thing goes a very long way.

    But I have lived in Serbia.

    Anyway: Mike, seesaw, I think you’re both exactly right.

    Doug M.

  9. Doug on the ‘dickhead nationalists’ vs social populists debate – well ok you didnt mention the latter so lets make it a debate.

    For starters Seselj wasnt mentioned in the radical party campaign, secondly none of the campaign adverts by srs exploited Kosovo as an issue. Thirdly their campaign was full of populist comments such as the ‘thievery from the banks that charge astronomical rates of interest for small loans’ etc. Even one of their campaign slogans was uncannily modern.

    I believe that as many people vote Radical for social populism as do for nationalist reasons. Therefore I ask myself why you dont mention this fact? You are not obliged to of course but then again you are not obliged to give the mandatory comments about nationalism either.

    As bored as I am with the radical party’s success at the polls I am also bored with the generalised comments made each time they do well that come from further afield. They are mostly bourn from a lack of understanding of politics in Serbia. Since you have an understanding I expect more from you.

    Apart from this omission, not bad!

  10. Goodness if the radicals win then they might start the ethnic cleansing process all over again and then the world will have more bodies that it cannot find.

    All of the parties suck, just like here in the US. They all want to ensure their job is intact, so they will use rhetoric that tickles their supporters fancy.

  11. The Radicals and DSS.

    EU support for dismantling Serbia and the selective, long draw-out process at the Hague, will be the deciding factor.

    Things will get worse for all, including the EU mapmakers.

  12. “bganon”,

    The Serbian Radical Party does not need to emphasise the Seselj or Kosovo points any longer. They are a standard for SRS. People know very clearly where SRS stands on these issues.

    Mercedes 10 years ago would advertise air bags as a scientific breakthrough, but that is now a standard in Benz cars and they can emphasise other points instead.

    If your theory that the Radicals are moving away from the Seselj, Kosovo issues stands — and, of course, it doesn’t — then why did all SRS MPs wear t-shirt with Seselj’s photo in the first session of parliament? The answer: a photo says a thousand words, and they want to save their words to win other voters because the ones that are interested in Seselj and Kosovo are going to vote for them anyways.


    Fidel Pardussi

  13. ‘why did all SRS MPs wear t-shirt with Seselj’s photo in the first session of parliament?’

    Because their supporters are impressed with the symbolic rather than the reality. The whole debate on Kosovo by the way is defined by Kosovo Serbs and Albanians in the same way. I should add that a good proportion of the SRS are ethnically cleansed Serbs from Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia.

    Pictures, not words, sentiments and emotion rather than policies. Symbols such as pictures, anthems, badges rather than concrete policies impress the uneducated. And most supporters of SRS are uneducated who are not able to comprehend the complexities of policies. Many of their supporters came from the ranks of SPS and some were evem Communists in SFRJ. Do you know which party has most former Communists supporting them in Kosovo? The answer could be a plus but it isnt. All it really means is that the uneducated vote for the populist or establishment party. In Croatia that was Tudjman, in Serbia it was Milosevic, in Kosovo it was Rugova, in Macedonia Gligorov, in Slovenia Kucan. Voters just transfered their former unthinking loyalty to Tito to the new ‘leader’.

    Personally I would ban MP’s from entering parliament if they were not wearing appropriate clothing. If most of us have to wear suitable clothing to go to work then so should MP’s.

    Anyway that isnt the real question, the real question is why Haradinaj can not only get away with being released until trial and Seselj is in jail for 4 years already, but why is Haradinaj allowed to continue in politics and treated by the appeasing UNMIK administration like an equal partner rather than a suspected war criminal? Where is the justice there? And (since you seem to have faith in the Hague) how come Del Ponte’s wishes are being ignored on the matter?

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