Serbs Choose European Over Nationalist Path in Historic Vote

In parliamentary elections on May 11, 2008, Serbs confirmed their desire to move beyond Serbia’s nationalist past and embrace speedier European integration.  This election marks the first time since the groundbreaking 2000 parliamentary elections, held shortly after ousting Slobodan Milosevic, that Serbs have elected a reform-oriented coalition with a plurality of the vote.  

According to the Serbian Electoral Commission, with 99.58 percent of the vote in, the For a European Serbia (ZES) coalition of reform-oriented, pro-Europe parties, led by the Democratic Party (DS), won a 38.4 percent over the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which secured 29.4 percent of the vote.  The increasingly nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), led by current Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, received 11.6 percent of the vote.

Elections were called after the fragile government, made up of the DS and the DSS, collapsed due to disagreement on Serbia’s integration into the European Union (EU).  The traditionally reformed-oriented DSS and Kostunica chose to ally with the Radicals during the campaign, with both parties vowing to halt further EU integration without the EU’s rejection of Kosovo’s independence.  Conversely, the ZES coalition and other reform-oriented parties campaigned on the importance of EU integration for increasing employment and standards of living in Serbia.  The ZES coalition also promoted Serbia’s integration into the EU as the best way to protect the interests of Serbs in Kosovo.  

Despite their Election Day victory, the ZES coalition must negotiate with other parties to reach the parliamentary majority necessary to form a government.  Most likely, the DS-led coalition will have to seek cooperation with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).  Though the SPS was formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic, it is seeking to transform itself into a modern European socialist party.  However, the SRS and DSS have also committed to working with the SPS to reach the necessary 126 seats to form a government.  According to law, the parties have 90 days from the day the election commission certifies the results to form a government.

In addition to parliamentary elections, provincial and municipal elections were also held on May 11.  The International Republican Institute (IRI) worked with reform-oriented political parties to help them stay focused on the issues of most concern to the electorate.  Using a robust public opinion research program, IRI helped parties understand that the public remained most concerned about jobs, the economy and a better standard of living rather than Kosovo’s independence.  IRI worked with the parties’ candidates to communicate their policies and agendas more effectively.  IRI’s political partners were successful in 14 of the 17 municipality races in which IRI provided capacity building assistance.

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