On the 2nd of March, one month before they are to be held, speaker of the Serbian parliament Maja Gojković (Serbian progressive Party, SNS) has called for presidential elections. Presidents are elected for a five-year term through a two-round system. This means that if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes during the first round, the two top candidates will compete in a second round. The first round of these elections is thus scheduled on the 2nd of April, the second round on the 16th of April. This has been criticized, as the date for the second round might take place on Orthodox Easter. As most Serbs celebrate this as a holiday, it might affect the outcome of the vote: People might have already planned holiday trips or rather stay at home than come out to vote. Speaker Gojković, who planned these dates, has been subject of criticism as she planned the elections, but also by deciding to dismiss the parliament until the elections.
The presidential candidates include the current prime minister and SNS leader Aleksandar Vučić, but also former Ombudsman Sasa Janković who runs as an independent candidate. He is supported by the opposition Democrats (DS) and is considered the main challenger of Vučić. There are more than twelve candidates for presidency, some of which gave up their position in order to run for presidency, such as the Ombudsman, but also Movement of Socialists (PS) official Bratislav Jugović. Former foreign minister and UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić is supported by the Social Democratic Party (SDS), the party founded by former president Boris Tadić who left DS after disagreement with the leadership. There are also two US based candidates, film producer Vladimir Rajcić and only female candidate Danijela Sremac, president of the Serbian Institute in Washington. Other candidates are Aleksandar Popović of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Vojislav Šešelj leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Dveri leader Boško Obradović, and independent candidate Milan Stamatović (although member of Serb People's Party). Current President Tomislav Nikolić is in power since 31 May 2012 and is eligible to run for a second term as president. However, his party SNS has unanimously supported Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić as presidential candidate. This might have to do with the credibility (and therefore popularity) of opponent Ombudsman Sasa Janković. Nikolić, initially willing to run for the second time, withdrew after the SNS supported Vučić.
The position of Nikolić is also contested because of his remarkable win in the elections of 2012. It was for the first time that a candidate of the Democrats, then President Boris Tadić, won during the first round. His expected and predicted victory led to a less pressing situation for the DS, who were less eager to come out to vote now that victory was so near. Normally, the first round is won by a person from the radical camp. Aleksandar Vučić, on the other hand, has won the hearts of the population by his perceived fight against corruption and has become a popular prime minister. In 2012 the SNS only had 24.05% of the votes, while 48.35% in 2014, which translates into 63,2% of the seats in parliament. This is when Aleksandar Vučić officially became Prime Minister, having already the most influence in parliament since a cabinet reshuffle in 2013.
These presidential elections might also lead to the announcement of parliamentary elections as well, as the SNS party has a majority in the parliament: They have the power to call for parliamentary elections on strategic important moments for them, or when they feel the opposition is weak. Normally, premature parliamentary elections would only be called for in extraordinary situations, with a political crisis. The last Serbian parliamentary elections were held in 2016, before that in 2014 and 2012. In 2016, Vučić stated that the preliminary elections were needed in order to ensure the smooth transition towards the EU and implementation of reforms. Serbian politics have had some strange twists and turns over the last years, with as best example the political paths of current President Nikolić and Prime Minister Vučić. Both of them have been affiliated and also supported the Serbian Radical Party, which is led by Vojislav Šešelj, who has been tried in The Hague at the International Court of Justice. Vučić was minister of information under the Milošević regime, and openly supported Ratko Mladić, while Nikolić was vice-president under Milošević. Šešelj and Nikolić disagreed on the course which should be taken after 2012: While the Radical Party was famous for its pro-Russian attitude, the split-off party took very much a pro-European stance. Vučić joined the new pro-European SNS party and followed the same path, as we can see from his reason to advance the elections. Why the radicals and now progressive split-off became so popular from 2012 onwards, instead of the traditional pro-European Democrats, is because the democrats started to fall apart. Former president Boris Tadić and former mayor of Belgrade Dragan Djilas were entangled in a conflict of power, which led to a split up between them, but also led smaller factions to split from the major parties just before the elections.
As we can see Vučić has an important role to play in the coming elections. While already being the most powerful politician in Serbia, he seeks to consolidate his power even more by becoming president. Traditionally, the prime minister is about internal affairs and domestic policy, while the president represents Serbia in foreign affairs. We will see if Vučić will try to combine both positions. Former Ombudsman Sasa Janković is an interesting opponent, as he openly criticizes the government and causes controversy with a report on the Belgrade police. However, results from a recent poll show that he would only gain up to 8% of the votes.