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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Déjà vu: ultranationalist Nikolić wins plurality in Serbian presidential election...but loses runoff vote

by Manuel Alvarez-Rivera, Puerto Rico

In a repeat of the 2004 presidential election outcome, voters in Serbia appear to have given a plurality once more to Tomislav Nikolić, the candidate of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), over incumbent President Boris Tadić - backed by the center-left Democratic Party (DS) - who came in second place once again. However, according to preliminary estimates issued by the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CeSID) as well as preliminary results made available by Serbia's Republic Electoral Commission, Nikolić has come up short of an absolute majority - which was also the case four years ago - and if the results hold he will face President Tadić in a runoff election next February 3. In the 2004 presidential runoff election, Tadić prevailed over Nikolić by a clear margin.

The latest figures show Tomislav Nikolić's lead over President Tadić to be slightly larger than in the first round of voting in 2004. However, both candidates have made substantial gains with respect to the previous election, with Nikolić gaining around nine percentage points, and President Tadić eight points. Meanwhile, the remaining seven presidential hopefuls fared poorly, trailing far behind the two major contenders with single-digit vote percentages.

While the outcome of the 2008 Serbian presidential election may not have been substantially different from that of the preceding vote, turnout - estimated at 61% by CeSID - was significantly higher than in 2004, when only 47.8% of the electorate went out to vote.

Serbia has a parliamentary form of government, and the presidency is a largely ceremonial office. Nonetheless, a Radical victory in the runoff election would in all likelihood complicate Serbia's bid to join the European Union (EU), as well as the anticipated independence of the United Nations-administered province of Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.

Serbia's accession to the EU and Kosovo's impending - and unilateral - declaration of independence have been salient issues in the election campaign. Although the two major presidential candidates are both opposed to Kosovo's independence, Nikolić would in all likelihood assume a far more intransigent posture than President Tadić if the event comes to pass. Meanwhile, both candidates favor Serbia's membership in the EU, but Nikolić gives priority to forging closer ties with Russia.

While Boris Tadić ultimately prevailed over Tomislav Nikolić in 2004 despite coming second in the first round, it remains to be seen if history will repeat itself in the upcoming runoff vote as well, as the highly emotional issue of Kosovo's imminent independence - a distant prospect four years ago - could very well decide the outcome of this year's presidential election.


Serbia's Republic Electoral Commission has issued definitive results of the January 20, 2008 presidential election, which were as follows:

Tomislav Nikolić (Serbian Radical Party) - 1,646,172 votes (40.0%)
Boris Tadić (Democratic Party) - 1,457,030 votes (35.4%)
Velimir Ilić (New Serbia) - 305,828 votes (7.4%)
Milutin Mrkonjić (Socialist Party of Serbia) - 245,889 votes (6.0%)
Čedomir Jovanović (Liberal Democratic Party) - 219,689 votes (5.3%)
Ištvan Pastor (Hungarian Coalition) - 93,039 votes (2.3%)
Others - 70,726 votes (1.7%)

The election had a 61.4% voter turnout rate.

As no candidate won an absolute majority in the first round of voting, voters returned to the polls on Sunday, February 3, 2008 for a presidential runoff election that turned out to be closely fought, as anticipated by opinion polls that showed President Boris Tadić narrowly ahead of SRS candidate Tomislav Nikolić. Although Serbian Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Koštunica announced on Wednesday, January 30 that the Democratic Party of Serbia - New Serbia coalition would not endorse either of the presidential candidates taking part in the runoff vote - despite the fact that President Tadić's Democratic Party is the largest partner in Koštunica's coalition government - Boris Tadić went on to prevail over Tomislav Nikolić by a narrow margin, according to preliminary estimates published by the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CeSID). These figures were subsequently confirmed by final results issued by Serbia's Republic Electoral Commission, which were as follows:

Boris Tadić (Democratic Party) - 2,304,467 votes (50.3%)
Tomislav Nikolić (Serbian Radical Party) - 2,197,155 votes (48.0%)

Voter turnout in the presidential runoff election increased to 68.1%.