While Serbia’s opposition mulls whether to field a joint candidate for mayor in the upcoming Belgrade local election, analysts predict a defeat in the capital could signal the beginning of the end for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s regime.
“Let us remember what the then opposition’s victory in Belgrade meant in the 1990s. In a way it served as an introduction to defeating the [former President Slobodan Milosevic’s] government in the rest of the country,” said political analyst and independent MP Djordje Vukadinovic.
In late 1996, Serbia’s opposition won local elections in most major cities, including Belgrade. Analysts see this as a prelude to the September 2000 presidential elections, in which the united opposition’s candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, defeated Slobodan Milosevic.
The Belgrade city elections would normally be held in March 2018, at the same time as local elections across the country.
However, according to reports published by numerous Serbian news outlets, officials from Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party have been hinting that early elections could be held this December.
The Progressives are unlikely to reveal who their candidate for the post of mayor will be, preferring instead to use Vucic’s personal popularity to attract voters.
Vukadinovic described the Vucic regime as ‘latently totalitarian’ saying it treats the “dispirited” opposition as an anomaly that needs to be removed or placed under control.
Political expert Vladimir Goati, who is also head of anti-corruption NGO Transparency Serbia, told BIRN he also believes voter trends across the whole country can be predicted by the outcome of Belgrade elections.
“Before October 5 [the start of protests that overthrew Milosevic], the voters in Belgrade successfully challenged the domination of Milosevic’s Socialist Party,” Goati said.
Political commentator and author Cvijetin Milivojevic, who writes for the Danas daily newspaper, agrees. He says a victory for the opposition in Belgrade, where around a quarter of Serbia’s population lives, would mean the gradual decline of the regime.