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Serbia: Mayoral Hopefuls Gear Up For Battle Of Belgrade


By Gordana Andric

As the second most important political post in the country, the race to become mayor of the Serbian capital is bound to be fierce and closely followed.

Belgraders are to choose a new mayor on May 6, as both general and local elections are scheduled for the same day.

As most parties are waiting to see whether presidential elections will be also held in May, and whether the party leaders will then run the presidential race, potential prime ministers have not yet been nominated.

But the list of candidates for the post of Belgrade mayor is almost complete.

The current Democratic Party mayor, Dragan Djilas, announced that he would like another mandate last December. Earlier, in November, the opposition nationalist Progressives said that their candidate will again be Aleksandar Vucic.

Many believe the elections will therefore mirror the situation at the last elections held in 2008, when the two main contenders were also Djilas and Vucic.

Of the other parties, the Radical Party candidate is Nemanja Sarovic, the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, is putting forward Aleksandar Popovic and the United Regions of Serbia, URS, will nominate current Health Minister Zoran Stankovic.

The coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, announced that the first man on their candidates’ list for Belgrade will be Dejan Randjic – but they say their primary aim is to gain more seats in the city assembly and then agree with other parties on who will be mayor.

The Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, has similar views. Its coalition, which includes the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia, PUPS and United Serbia, JS, will present Belgrade voters with a team.

“In these elections Belgraders are not voting for a mayor, but for city councillors,” Aleksandar Antic, president of the Belgrade assembly and the head of Socialist board in Belgrade, said.

The post of Belgrade mayor is the second most important in the country after the Prime Minister. Governing a city of 1.7 million people, a quarter of the population of Serbia, has always been seen as important and prestigious.

Elections in Belgrade are held on two levels, as the city is divided into 17 municipalities. Voters fill in two ballot papers, one voting for their local municipal assembly and the other for the city government.

The presidents of the municipalities and the mayor are then elected by municipal and city assemblies.

The city assembly has 110 deputies, so any future mayor needs the support of at least 56.

The system is the same as that for general elections. Seats are awarded through a party-list system of proportional representation with a five-per-cent threshold for all but minority parties.

Every third candidate on the lists must be a member of the less represented gender. In the last elections, in 2008, five parties passed the threshold and entered the city assembly.

The “For a European Belgrade” coalition, led by the Democrats, won 45 seats, the Radicals won 40, the coalition of DSS and New Serbia won 12, LDP secured seven and the Socialists six.

The Serbian Progressive Party was formed later that year following a split from the Radicals, so these elections in the city will be their first test.

Dragan Djilas, Democratic Party:

Dragan Djilas was born on February 22 1967 in Belgrade and graduated from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. During his student years in the early 1990s he was one of the leaders of the youth protests against Serbia’s then ruler, Slobodan Milosevic. He started working in media marketing in the mid-90s and today his companies are some of the most influential on the Serbian market. Politically active throughout his life, he officially became politically active in 2004, when he joined Democratic Party. From 2004 to 2007 he directed the People’s Office of President Boris Tadic. In 2007 he became minister without portfolio in charge of the National Investment Plan. In August 2008 he was sworn in as mayor of Belgrade, becoming the youngest mayor of the capital in history.

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian Progressive Party:

Aleksandar Vucic was born on March 5 1970 in Belgrade. After graduating from the Faculty of Law, he joined the hard-line nationalist Serbian Radical Party in 1993. As a member of the Radicals, he was a deputy in parliament three times. In 1998 he became Minister of Information. His term was marked by the adoption of a controversial Information Law that prescribed stiff penalties for independent journalists. In September 2008 Vucic, along with Tomislav Nikolic, left the Radicals and formed the more moderate Serbian Progressive Party. The 2012 bid will be Vucic’s third attempt to become mayor of Belgrade. He won 48 per cent of the vote in 2004, then losing to the Democrats’ Nenad Bogdanovic. In 2008 he won 35 per cent, losing to Dragan Djilas.

Nemanja Sarovic, Serbian Radical Party:

Nemanja Sarovic was born on December 28 1974 in Belgrade and is a graduate of the Faculty of Law. Since 2004 he has been president of the Radical Party’s board in Belgrade and a party whip in the Belgrade assembly. From 2007 to 2008 he was a deputy in parliament. Before becoming politically active he worked as a lawyer. Sarovic was under the media spotlight several times. In 2005 media reports charged him with having collected daily travel expenses for travel to and from Vranje in southern Serbia at a time when he was living in Belgrade. In 2011 his relationship with Aleksandra Ilic, an MP from New Serbia, became a media tale of “forbidden love” unfolding in parliament. Sarovic shifted from the hard right wing of the Radicals to a modernising, reformist position.

Aleksandar Popovic, Democratic Party of Serbia:

Aleksandar Popovic was born on October 20 1971 in Belgrade. He holds a PhD. in Chemistry. Along with his scientific expertise, Popovic was also a successful athlete, a member of Yugoslavia’s national and Olympic athletics teams and a champion. He has served as a minister in two governments: from 2004 to 2007 under Vojislav Kostunica, when he was the government’s minister of science and environmental protection; and again in the second Kostunica government from May 2007 to 2008, when he served as the country’s minister of energy and mining. The 2012 elections will mark his second attempt to become mayor of the capital, after having run as his party’s nominee back at the general and local elections of 2008.

Zoran Stankovic, United Regions of Serbia:

Zoran Stankovic, born on November 9 1954, is Serbia’s current health minister. After graduating in medicine he became an army doctor in 1980. During the wars of the 1990s he spent a year doing autopsies. In 1994 he was made a UN expert in forensic medicine and testified in this role before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in several cases. In 2001 he accused the Tribunal of reluctance to investigate crimes committed against Serbs. In 2002 he became chief of the Military Medical Academy, VMA. After a disagreement with the then Defence Minister, Stankovic left the post in April 2005. Later that year he became Defence Minister in Vojislav Kostunica’s government, which many then expected to arrest war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic.

Dejan Randjic, Liberal Democratic Party:

Dejan Randjic was born on August 19 1972 in Cacak and has been a deputy and party whip in the Belgrade assembly since 2008. After graduating in economy, Randjic joined the anti-Milosevic movement in the late 1990s, helping to found the OTPOR youth protest movement in 1998, where he was the head of marketing. He was a member of the Democratic Party from 1996 to 2005, when he formed the Liberal Democratic Party with Cedomir Jovanovic. Like the current mayor, Randjic is also involved in marketing. In 2001, along with colleagues from OTPOR, he opened marketing agency Gistro Advertising. He has been a consultant in elections and political campaigns in Macedonia, Republika Srpska, Cuba, Lebanon and Zimbabwe.

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