by Radoman IRIC
However, late last month, just before the special local elections, the number of ethnic Serbs and Albanians in voting registers was finally established (?). However, those numbers are apparently also a top secret and were hidden from the public until July 29, when the preliminary election results were published. Again no one knows who gave such orders and why!
Thus, before we consider election results in these three municipalities, we should provide more information about all three of them. Presevo is the southernmost municipality in Serbia proper. The process of emigration of Serbs in this municipality is over, because only 3,000 to 4,000 remain. The annual birth rate in the municipality is 18.8 births per 1,000 inhabitants (compare with average rate in Serbia of 9.3 births per 1,000 inhabitants), and the density of population is 148 residents per square kilometer. Ethnic Albanians have controlled local authorities since the first multi-party elections in 1992. before the most recent elections, Serbs had six seats in the local council, and Albanians 29.
At the last elections three ethnic Albanians parties, which fought a fierce electoral battle among themselves, won 35 out of 38 seats, while Riza Halimi's PDD won as many as 19 seats in the local council. In the recent years, and especially in these elections the center of power has been shifting to the right where, under the pressure from individuals from UCPMB, the Party for Democratic Unification of Albanians and newly formed Movement for Democratic Prosperity have been on the attack. Moreover, at this time it is not certain whether Riza Halimi will be elected for the mayor of Presevo as, in two weeks, he'll have to fight the second round of voting against PDUA candidate Rami Zulfiju. It would not be too surprising if this "general", after two lost electoral battles so far, loses the war as well.
In Medvedja the population has been falling with every coming year. From somewhat more than 20,000 in 1971, today only 12,000 residents remain. The proportion of ethnic Albanians in the overall population has been falling, so that today they make up about 25 percent of population. Until July 28, Serbs held 30 seats in the local council, while Albanians held 5. Since July 30, the 35 seats in the local council of Medvedja, one of the poorest municipalities in Serbia, have been divided up by the Coalition for Medvedja (11), Socialist Party of Serbia (7), the Democratic Party of Serbia (6), Albanian PDD (6), the Serb Renewal Movement (3) and the Serb Radical Party (2). The incumbent mayor Slobodan Draskovic was re-elected with overwhelming majority after defecting from the SPS to Covic's Democratic Alternative.
Thus, we reach Bujanovac, because of which the south of Serbia has been present in the local and foreign media over the last 2-3 years. Before these elections Milosevic's local satellites resorted to gerrymandering that limited the number of seats ethnic Albanians could win to 12, or 29 percent of all seats in the local council, while 71 percent of seats, 29 all together, were reserved for Serbs and other ethnic groups. At the same time, estimates of the Federal Statistics Institute, since 1991, indicated that out of 49,238 inhabitants in Bujanovac municipality, 61 percent were ethnic Albanians, 29 percent Serbs and 10 percent Roma or other ethnicities. Serbs from Bujanovac, no one knows how or why, have never accepted this estimate as reliable (and still reject it).
After these elections, for the first time in the history of Bujanovac, an ethnic Albanian will be the mayor of Bujanovac, while in the local council, 58,5 percent of seats, 24 seats all together, will be controlled by ethnic Albanian political parties. Out of these 24 seats, 15 were won by Riza Halimi's PDD,the party that will have the first ethnic Albanian mayor, Nagib Arifi, an attorney, one of founders of PDD and the first president of the party organization in Bujanovac. He received 55.340f vote and defeated the candidate of the Serb block, Novica Manojlovic from the "Coalition for Bujanovac".
These results are not likely to be significantly changed even after repeated voting in about ten polling stations.
However, it has been announced that the turnout in these elections, organized based on the new Local Government Law, was 72 percent (in Bujanovac 57.22 percent) out of 75,000 eligible voters. These 39,000 voters elected, using proportional electoral system, 114 local councilors, 49 Serbs and 65 Albanians. Before the elections the ratio was reversed with 65 Serbs and 49 Albanians. Out of 49 Serb seats in three local councils, 26 will be controlled by representatives of the "Serb coalition" that include pretty much all the Serb political parties except for the SPS and the SRS, and in which the Democratic Alternative has the greatest influence - about 35 percent. Albanian 65 seats were distributed between four political groups, the strongest one the Party for Democratic Action (PDD) with 40 seats, whose founder and leader for the last 12 years has been Riza Halimi, a physics teacher and well-known Albanian dissident from the eighties, otherwise the mayor of Presevo for the last ten years.
Thus, in the coming year and a half, until the first regular local elections, these three municipalities will be governed by the "Serb coalition", or more accurately Nebojsa Covic's DA, and Riza Halimi's PDD.
Protests of Serbs in Bujanovac, dissatisfied with election results, are only a consequence of the inherited and catastrophic 50-years-long Communist rule and 12 years of darkness under Milosevic's regime. Both regimes were so open that the Serbs in Bujanovac have only now realized that they are not a majority in the municipality but represent about 30 percent of population. Naturally, Nebojsa Covic and the Coordination Council have based their activities in creation of multi-ethnic life in the south of Serbia precisely on that fact.
Author is the correspondent of Radio Free Europe and Radio B92 from the south of Serbia