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06BELGRADE1174 2006-07-21 14:30:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Belgrade
Cable title:  

Election Outlook for Serbia -- Still

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1. (U) Two June polls in Serbia indicate that
the Radicals and Socialists continue to be within
reach of together winning a majority in future
elections -- particularly if turnout is low. A
Kosovo outcome perceived as negative by the
electorate could conceivable sap support for the
democrats further, primarily through increased
abstention by reform-minded voters.
Nevertheless, pollsters believe that the next
election could result in a democratic bloc
victory, if the democratic parties can cease
their infighting, strengthen their regional party
structures, forge pre-election coalitions, and
burn through a lot of shoe leather to win back
the disillusioned democratic voters who coalesced
to bring down Milosevic six years ago. End

Party Support


2. (SBU) In two recent polls conducted by SCAN
polling agency and the International Republican
Institute, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS)
emerged as the strongest party. The Democratic
Party (DS) came out in second place, with the
Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) a distant third
(and the only three who would certainly cross the
5 percent threshold. With undecided and
abstaining voters removed from the equation, G-
17+ and SPS hover around the threshold - see para

--Question: If Republic Elections Were Held on
Sunday, Which Party Would You Vote for (IRI):

Party Percent Support
Jan Mar June
--- ---


SRS: 24 24 27
DS: 17 19 19
DSS: 8 8 7
SPS: 4 5 4
G-17Plus: 2 3 3
LDP: 1 1 2
PSS: 6 4 1
Undecided: 34 32 33

3. (U) The numbers for the DSS and G-17+ follow
the recent trend of declining support, but
observers have noted that their figures are
stabilizing and not likely to drop further.
Pollsters also commented that support for the SRS
has largely remained stable over the last few
years, and a significant rise or fall is
improbable, even in the event of a Kosovo outcome
perceived as negative.

Real Possibility of SRS-led Government


4. (SBU) Polls since the beginning of the year
have consistently indicated the electoral
potential of the SRS and SPS to form a
government. For example, the IRI poll among
likely/decided voters showed:

Party Likely Voters Decided Voters

SRS 35% 40%
SPS 5% 6%
DS 24% 28%
DSS 8% 10%
G-17+ 4% 5%

As no other parties would cross the current 5%
parliamentary threshold, these results indicate
that the SRS-SPS could theoretically win a
majority of seats among decided voters (i.e.,
SRS-SPS could amass 46% of votes, versus 43% for
the democratic parties). Both polling agencies
emphasized that this relative strength of the
nationalists comes from reform-oriented voters
abandoning the democratic parties in droves.
They added that this trend is increasing.

Turnout and Abstentions


BELGRADE 00001174 002.2 OF 003

5. (SBU) Another prominent trend is a rising
number of Serbs who say they would not vote. A
May 2006 Gallup poll found this number to be 23
percent, compared to 20.9 percent in January.
The IRI found that the number of people who say
they are personally interested in politics has
fallen to 31 percent. Milka Puzigaca of SCAN
stated that the rise of abstainers is largely due
to bickering among the democratic parties, and
that the abstainers are likely to be reform-
minded rather than sympathetic to the far right.
The rising number of non-voters has helped
inflate the numbers for the SRS when adjusted to
only those who say they will vote, since the
Radicals are generally not losing voters to
apathy as the democratic parties are.

6. (SBU) Turnout is expected to be below 50
percent, and Puzigaca predicted that turnout in
Belgrade may not even exceed 40 prcent. IRI's
data, which only predicts trends in voting,
suggested that turnout will be significantly
lower than in 2003, which was about 59 percent.
However, both groups emphasized that turnout is
nearly impossible to predict, especially before
elections are called. Puzigaca was reluctant to
talk about turnout and refused to even analyze
results based on current turnout surveys, arguing
that such analysis is unreliable.

7. (SBU) Alternatively, both highlighted that
the SRS is also boosted by the number of 'sure
voters' of each party, meaning those who will
most certainly turn out for elections:

Party Percent
SRS: 73.4
DS: 55.8
DSS: 47.1
G-17+: 52.5
LDP: 73

This means that the SRS can secure representation
in Parliament disproportional to their actual
level of support due to the loyal enthusiasm of
their voters.

Possible Outcomes


8. (SBU) Both polling organizations provided
mixed answers on election outcomes. Puzigaca
remained confident that the SRS would not come to
power and stated that they could never form a
coalition with Kostunica, without the DSS'
electorate abandoning the party. However, she
qualified her answer to say that, if overall
turnout is below 44 percent, there is a potential
that the SRS and SPS could themselves form a
coalition. She stressed that the best strategy
for democratic parties is not to threaten voters
with a Radical victory, but rather to maintain
and promote their own unique identity and goals.
The most important thing is that the democratic
parties refrain from attacking each other.

9. (SBU) IRI provided a slightly different
perspective. They stressed that the democratic
parties are not doing enough to prepare for
elections, and they saw an outright SRS victory
as a real possibility. IRI's lead pollster
emphasized that the democratic parties need to
start working hard to make internal party
reforms, develop a positive message, and reach
out personally to the electorate, in order to
motivate their base and reach out to disaffected
voters (see SEPTEL). He noted, however, that he
had seen little movement in this direction and
was decidedly skeptical that the democrats could
make sufficient strides to be victorious if
elections are held before 2007. He added that a
victory in parliamentary elections could give the
SRS enough momentum to secure the presidency as
well. When asked, IRI generally agreed with
Puzigace's analysis that turnout would need to
drop below 44 percent for the SRS to come to
power, which its polls envision as a possibility.



BELGRADE 00001174 003.2 OF 003

10. (SBU) Analysts agree that the key to a
democratic victory is more a factor of turnout,
than of Kosovo status. If the democratic parties
develop a positive message, continue to pursue
internal reforms, and reduce their infighting in
order to boost turnout, the Radicals will have a
difficult task to score an election victory, even
if Kosovo becomes independent. Naturally, a
well-planned and funded GOTV program will be
crucial to helping the democrats make up for lost
time and past mistakes.