Serbia: Monitoring the Elections Via Citizen Media

Six countries in Europe have been voting on May 6, 2012, amongst which are France, electing its new President, Greece, voting for a new parliament, and Serbia. The latter is at “its most important election” since Slobodan Milosevic was demised in 2000: nearly 7 million of the Serbian citizens eligible to vote will elect the president, the parliament and various municipal and provincial governors, choosing amongst 18 lists [sr] for seats in the parliament and 12 candidates [sr] running for the head of state.

The preliminary polls in Serbia were showing low participation, and various blogs have echoed the bitter irony and disillusionment with the perspective of this crucial election taking place within the hammering pervasive austerity that has spead all over Europe. The May 6 elections will have a decisive say on Serbia's relations with the European Union, as well as with Kosovo, whose independence Serbia refuses to recognize.

A campaign flyer during the pre-electoral silence period. Image from user Zoltan Dognar on Twitter

A campaign flyer during the pre-electoral silence period. Image from user Zoltan Dognar on Twitter

The main fight seems to be between Tomislav Nikolic (the Serbian Progressive Party, or SNS, the opposition) and the current president Boris Tadic (the Democratic Party, DS). The political positions of the two candidates are quite similar regarding the EU, although the situation in the region would not be comfortable if Nikolic won: Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina still consider him the heir of his political mentor, Vojislav Seselj, an ultranationalist and the former president of the Serbian Radical Party, currently on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

With the recent flawed elections in other countries, Serbians were concerned for the transparency of their election process. In order to prevent fraud, an Ushahidi-based election crowdmap has been set up to allow abuse reports to be filled in. The initiative Digitalni Glas Srbije (“Digital Voice of Serbia”) [sr] was launched to monitor, aggregate and echo reactions prior to and on the election day.

Very few blogs have been publishing content on the election day itself, but Twitter was babbling with reactions, pictures and discussions, using the hashtags #izbori (“elections”), #izbori2012, #srbija (“Serbia”).

In an attempt to account for regularity, an initiative [sr] directed by the Serbian Medija Centar (“Media Center”) was aimed at monitoring how well the pre-electoral silence was observed. Political parties are prohibited from campaining during the two days immediately preceding the election day itself.

Thus, the pre-electoral silence started on Thursday, May 3, at midnight, and two reports [sr] were issued using various metrics. Their repeated calls to fellow citizens to report any infringements of this rule were followed by a number of pictures circulated through Twitter and showing illegal campaining.

Also on Twitter, youth disillusionment has been reflected:

@DunjaLazic:sutra su dakle prvi izbori na kojima mogu da glasam a baš i nemam neki izbor

So tomorrow will be held the first election where I can vote, but I just do not have any choice
Pro-SNS texts and irony. Image by user Bildi13 on Twitter

Pro-SNS texts and irony. Image by user Bildi13 on Twitter

Such opinions were posted along with others [sr] discussing the relevance of the pre-electoral silence. Also, it turned out that various parties have been sending text messages to citizens’ mobile phones during the pre-electoral silence:

Dragi sugrajdani, jedino sto je potrebno Srbiji so PROMENE. Srpska napredna stanka to moze doneti. Zajedno pokrenimo Srbiju. Izadji i glasaj!

Dear fellow citizens, the only thing Serbia needs are CHANGES. The Serbian Progressive Party can deliver that. Let's move Serbia together. Get out and vote!

This type of illegal campaining has been reported to be very frequent from SNS's side – and people reacted with sarcasm: one user replied to the invitation to vote for the SNS saying that “even Seselj got a text message from the progressives.”

Many Twitter users were also arguing about the respective candidates and their influence on politics if elected [ru]:

@VladMiskovic: Још само четири сата до пада ЕУ режима у Србији! Гласајте против ЕУ окупације Србије, гласајте за @srpski_radikali! #izbori #izbori2012

Only four more hours until the fall of the EU's regime in Serbia! Vote against the EU occupation of Serbia, vote for @srpski_radikali!

Global Voices Author Sasa Milosevic replied to this call to vote for the Serbian Radical Party [sr]:

@journalist92: @VladMiskovic @srpski_radikali . Srpski radikali ce da nas izvuku. Glas za njih znaci glas za oruzje, ratove, krvoprolice i Srbiju u mraku

@VladMiskovic @srpski_radikali Serbian Radicals that will get us out. A vote for them means a vote for guns, wars, bloodshed, and Serbia [drowned] in the dark

Numerous pictures on Twitter also showed a huge number of annulled ballots: very often, a small, rapidly penned Batman was indicated as the candidate of choice, but hand-written “Pirate Party” or “The Internets” have also been reported.

During the whole day, the levels of participation were announced [sr] by the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) and preliminary results from the diaspora were circulated on Twitter:

@NMojovic: rezultati iz toronta i čikaga: Tadić 48, Koštunica 37, Glišić 33, Nikolić 16, J. Šešelj 12, Dačić 8, Jovanović 7, Stanković 5 #izbori

Results from Toronto and Chicago: Tadic 48%, Kostunica 37, Glisic 33, Nikolic 16, J. Seselj 12, Dacic 8, Jovanovic 7, Stankovic 5 #izbori

So far, little is known about the preliminary results and even less information has been diffused regarding the voting in Kosovo. The OSCE mission was organizing the elections there and, even though the turnout was low at 2pm (only 17%), there seem to have been no problems:

@danielrhamilton: Just spoke to Serbia's State Secretary in #Kosovo Oliver Ivanovic. Election turnout light but no reported problems so far. #izbori2012

It is time to count now… and see what the outcome of the May 6 elections will be for Serbia and the region.

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