If Serbian President Boris Tadic wins re-election on Sunday, he will be on course to hold power for as long as former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, whose 13-year rule saw Serbia become a pariah state and more than 125,000 people die in Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse.
Elected twice since 2004, Tadic has said he needs five more years to sort out the mess Milosevic left behind when he was ousted in 2000.
The 54-year-old psychologist looks almost certain to get them, thanks not least to his carefully crafted image as a charming family man and a safe pair of hands in a region that has seen enough loose cannons.
“Serbia is very close to leaving that part of its history behind it,” he said while campaigning in the southern town of Prokuplje. “We haven’t crossed the Rubicon, but we are on the verge of it, and that’s why we need another five-year term to consolidate the process.”
For the third time, Tadic goes up against Tomislav Nikolic, the 60-year-old leader of the rightist opposition Serbian Progressive Party. Since he last lost to Tadic in 2008, Nikolic has tried to rebrand himself from an ultranationalist to a modern, pro-European conservative.
It has not worked.
Stiff and uninspiring on stage, Nikolic is trailing in opinion polls ahead of the vote.
Tanned, tall and campaigning in an open-neck shirt and rolled-up sleeves, Tadic personifies for many voters the country they want Serbia to be — modern, reliable and in the European mainstream.
Nikolic calls him “Czar Tadic,” accusing his opponent of overseeing a creeping culture of elitism and deepening government control over the media.
In the popular Serbian daily Blic, cartoonist Marko Somborac sketches Tadic gazing into a mirror, or reclining in a vest and boxer shorts. Critics say he leans too much on the power of marketing at the expense of policy.
“With Tadic, you know what you get,” a senior Western diplomat said.
In Serbia, where the average age is 42, Serbs “vote for continuity, for security,” Serbian marketing expert Vojislav Zanetic said. “I think even Tomislav Nikolic would vote for Tadic.”