On Jan. 21, Serbia held its parliamentary elections on the eve of the international community’s decision about Kosovo’s future status. While Serbia’s political culture has long been blemished with periodic bouts of ethnic strife and nationalism, these elections offered an opportunity for the country to demonstrate its commitment to the democratic process and a more diverse and representative government.
The atmosphere leading up to the election was commended by those from the international community for its lack of violence and availability of information on political candidates. The media coverage of various political parties and candidates was generally seen as balanced and substantive, allowing for a space of free and lively debate amongst political contestants. Of the 20 political groups running, six of them represented ethnic minorities. Additionally, ethnic Albanian minority parties competed for the first time in recent elections following a decades-long boycott, suggesting the beginning of greater inclusion in the political climate.
Although the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party came out with the highest percentage of the vote (29 percent according to the preliminary results) gaining 81 of the 250 seats in parliament, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia, which won 65 and 46 seats respectively, could form the government under a broad coalition. However, success in negotiating such a union could be difficult. The parties have until the end of April to form a new government before Serbian law would force new elections.
The status of Kosovo, which remains a disputed issue, is another reason why citizens and the international community alike are eager for a timely formation of a new government. The contentious Kosovo region was one issue in the campaign and could have contributed to the high turnout of voters for the Serbian Radical Party. In order to avoid influencing votes in Sunday’s election, UN Special Envoy to Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari, delayed the release of his recommendations on the future of Kosovo until the following Friday.
In an unprecedented development, an ethnic Albanian won a seat in the parliament, as did two ethnic Roma representing different political parties, thanks to a change in electoral laws that encouraged minority participation. This significant achievement has been viewed as an indication of a more open and progressive process.
International election observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU) stated that the elections generally met international standards, though not entirely without flaws. NDI supported the efforts of the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), which deployed over 5,000 domestic observers on election day. CeSID, an organization of well-established civic activists who have been NDI local partners for almost 10 years, was active both in the pre-election and election day periods, including a massive voter contact campaign prior to the polls.
Published on Jan. 22, 2007