Radicals Resurgent: Accounting for the SRS's Success in Serbia's 2004 Elections
Four years after Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in the elections held in October 2000, the Serbian Radical party (SRS) was revived in the 2004 elections. Andrew Konitzer explored the roots of the SRS's resurgence and implications its success has had on the further development of democracy in Serbia.
First, Konitzer noted that the SRS is a strange political animal, since its politics are neither traditionally left nor right, favoring a more flexible, populist approach rather than a firm ideology. For example, its 2004 platform was to protect Serbia from the ravages of the free market (seemingly left); to strengthen the state in an effort to fight organized crime and corruption (seemingly right). Moreover, the party also embraced nationalist rhetoric, vowing to cooperate with the international community on Serbia's terms and to reclaim lands occupied by Serbs outside the current borders of the country.
Between 1993 and 2000, there was a clear downward trend in terms of public support for the SRS, but before elections in 2004, support for the party shot up. Several factors have been offered to explain this outcome. First, divisions within the democratic bloc yielded electoral dividends for the SRS: the disunity between the two democratic parties led to a poor governance record by the bloc. In addition, some observers noted that SRS was better able to reap the benefits of with new electoral rules, which created a strong proportional system in a more decentralized system. Konitzer hypothesized that the SRS benefited from the low turnout, since those who did vote tended to be the unemployed (who launched a protest vote) and the many Serbian refugees, who fled other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and may be more susceptible to nationalist rhetoric.
According to his quantitative analysis of these factors, he concluded that the refugee factor was a very strong indicator for SRS success, followed by unemployment and low turnout. Moreover, in areas with relatively high tax revenues (wealthier areas) the SRS did relatively poorly. Nevertheless, the decentralization of the system had a profound influence on the outcome as well. Moreover, greater institutional decentralization allowed the SRS politicians serving in local governments in the opstine (regions) served to gain political experience and thus prove their ability to rule. Konitzer raised the question that while traditional democracy promotion policies include decentralization, the case of the SRS in Serbia shows that decentralized systems can produce undemocratic results as well.