The election of Vojislav Kostunica as the new president of Yugoslavia has been described in the press as the arrival of democracy. But wasn't Slobodon Milosevic freely elected?
More or less. Although the outcome may have been deplorable, in 1990 Milosevic won a sweeping victory as president of Serbia, which was then part of the six-republic Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. International observers described it as a free election, because citizens were not prevented from voting, if not a fair election, because Milosevic controlled the state-run media. Many experts agree Milosevic probably would have won that one even if it had been fair. His re-election in 1992 was neither free nor fair. The election this September of Kostunica, which ousted Milosevic--by now an indicted war criminal--was considerably less free and fair than the last one. By this year there were no international observers, there was ballot-stuffing, and Milosevic controlled not only the state-run media but the army, the police, the supreme court, and the election commission. Still, he lost.
Kostunica is president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a very different Yugoslavia from the one that existed when Milosevic was first elected. It consists of Serbia, with a population of about 10 million, and Montenegro, which has about 600,000. Each republic has its own president. Serbia's president is a Milosevic crony, Montenegro's a Milosevic adversary who opposed the election because he thought, as did Milosevic, that Milosevic would be able to declare victory whatever the outcome. (It's not called "balkanization" for nothing.) Milosevic became president of the current Yugoslavia in 1997 through a parliamentary election when he reached the end of a two-term limit as president of Serbia. Because he liked to keep an illusion of democracy, he rammed through a constitutional amendment calling for a popular presidential election, unwittingly setting himself up for this defeat.
Explainer thanks Robert Hayden of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Martin Sletzinger of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Eric Witte of the International Crisis Group.