Presidential election: Conflict in SNS between Vucic and Nikolic

Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic’s decision to run again the same position has deeply shocked the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which had previously chosen its leader, prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, as its nominee. Vucic accepted nomination on Tuesday, and Nikolic announced his bid a day after.

These decisions are the culmination of uncertainty that lasted for months. In 2016, Nikolic clearly declared that he would be ready to run again, hopefully with the support of SNS, a party he had lead until he was elected president in 2012. Unlike Nikolic, Vucic has been decisively denying that he had any intention to run for president. Eventually, Vucic did the opposite, claiming that he has better chances than Nikolic of defeating the opposition candidates. SNS is now faced with its biggest challenge in years.

According to media accounts and sources from the Serbian presidency, Nikolic was ready to give up from his bid, but demanded from Vucic to appoint him prime minister and party leader. Nikolic said today that he is still open “to an agreement”, but, according to reports, Vucic is “not interested”. Vucic, who is currently abroad, declined to give any comments so far.

At the same time, Vucic’s associates, including ministers and partners in the ruling coalition, are criticizing Nikolic and appealing on Vucic “not to give up” on his nomination. The leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivica Dacic said that Nikolic’s decision was “shameful while an SNS high official and minister in Vucic’s government, Zorana Mihajlovic said that Nikolic’s move was “irresponsible”.

Analysts close to Vucic suggested that Nikolic has stabbed the PM in the back, while some observers stress the fact that the incumbent head of state announced his decision on Russian Sputnik news agency. Nikolic’s good relations with the Kremlin are well known.

Nikolic’s nomination marks not only the end of his alliance with Vucic, but it is also a rather bizarre circumstance –  the three most exposed former or current leaders of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), an ultranationalist group which had significant role in Serbia since it was founded in 1991, are now in presidential campaign. Namely, Vucic, Nikolic and Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian  Radical Party (SRS) since its foundation. In 2007, Nikolic and Vucic parted ways with Seselj and founded the pro-European, conservative SNS.

It is not clear yet when elections will take place.

Maja Gojkovic, the Speaker of the National Parliament, said that that depended on whether parliamentary elections would be also called. Earlier Vucic did not exclude such possibility despite the fact that SNS has clear majority after the 2016 elections. At the same time, it is not known who will be the new premier; SNS members who allegedly strongly support Vucic against Nikolic are certain that their leader will become the country’s next President.

(IBNA, 16.02.2017)

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