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New Serbian President Promises Change

BELGRADE, May 21 2012 (IPS) - Serbs awoke on Monday morning to a regime change. A close ballot in the presidential run-off Sunday spelled the end for incumbent Boris Tadic, who served two terms as head of the Democratic Party that toppled former dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, as Serbs cast their votes for the populist Tomislav Nikolic, who begins his five-year term today.

Nikolic (60) heads the populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and his victory was described last night by analysts as “a political earthquake”, leaving swathes of the public in shock as the long-celebrated Democratic Party stepped down.

The Democrats began the process of ending Milosevic’s bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s, which took more than 100,000 lives.

But even a glorious past could not secure Tadic’s popularity against the wave of economic and political hardship that has gripped the country since the latter came to power in 2004, analysts say.

“The loss of presidency (for Tadic) came as a result of enormous dissatisfaction among the people, as the economic and social situation has (deteriorated) in the past years, with the President and his (ruling) party doing little to ease the burden,” analyst Ognjen Pribicevic told IPS. “Besides, all these hardships are accompanied by growing accusations of corruption that is eating away at the substance of society,” he added.

Unemployment in Serbia has stood stubbornly at 24 percent for years now, the highest in decades, while Serbian tycoons from the grim 90s era have flourished under the new rulers, privatising hundreds of companies and then leading them into bankruptcy due to a lack of international investment, particularly since 2008.

Impoverished state coffers led to the decay of the health care system, education and social services. In an effort to improve the situation, Serbia began borrowing money and ended up with a foreign debt of 31 billion dollars for a nation of 7.3 million people.

The first sign of widespread dissatisfaction with Democrats came two weeks ago in the parliamentary elections and first round of presidential elections. Tadic’s party obtained 23 percent of the votes, while Nikolic’s Progressives came in as the single biggest party with 24 percent, unable, however, to form a coalition government.

The new Serbian government will be formalised next month, comprised of Tadic’s Democrats, Socialists and a small Liberal-Democratic party.

“We’ll have a cohabitation in the future, with a Progressive president and a government again headed by the Democrats,” analyst Misa Brkic told IPS. He believes this won’t be a bad thing, with opposing sides acting as a system of checks and balances against one another.

The poll booths saw an extremely low turnout on Sunday, with barely 45 percent of the electorate turning up to cast a vote. Still, Nikolic won 49.8 and Tadic 47 percent of the votes.

“(Tadic) was punished by former Democrat supporters – the intellectuals (and) middle class,” political analyst Jovo Bakic told IPS.

“They expressed clear antipathy to the Democratic Party’s practices in the past years – including nepotism (and) favouritism of close presidential aides. Tadic did exactly what Milosevic did in his final years, concentrated power around him, and the majority of voters expressed their disgust by not going to the polls at all,” he added.

According to the constitution, the President of Serbia has no executive powers – rather, he or she is expected to objectively represent the nation at home and abroad, sign and thus approve laws adopted by Parliament, name ambassadors and receive foreign ambassadors and decide on a number of state matters.

But as far as the broader Serbian public was concerned, Tadic had long overstepped those boundaries.

In his victory speech, Nikolic said he would “adhere to the Constitution and respect institutions”, in a clear reference to widespread opposition to Tadic’s abuse of power.

According to analyst Slavisa Lekic, “Tadic’s interference was visible in the work of government (institutions), courts and (much more).”

“Part of the intellectual public wanted to sacrifice Tadic for the improvement of democracy,” Lekic said.

“I want a normal Serbia, a country where one day I can be replaced,” Nikolic said last night, in a nod to the democratic future he has promised.

Nikolic also said, “Serbia will not stray from its European path,” since the nation secured European Union candidacy last March.

He added that his priorities now were “Moscow, Brussels and Washington, not certainly in this order,” as he was willing to cooperate with European nations and the United States, but also with Russia, considered one of Serbi’s “traditional” political allies.

Nikolic added that he would ask for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel since “Germany is Serbia’s main ally in the European Union.”

“I will nourish good relations with all our neighbours,” Nikolic said, referring to the fact that post-war relations between the countries of former Yugoslavia are still seeing their ups and downs.

“Serbs and Croats should live in peace,” he said about the two biggest nations of former Yugoslavia that were at war in the beginning of the 90s.


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