Serbian political phenomenon: “Whitey the Flip-flopper” as a presidential candidate

The leader of the “Whitey - Keep it strong” movement Luka Maksimovic aka “Whitey the Flip-flopper” has steered the Serbian political scene. Now, even the eminent political analyses show that his candidacy could prevent the current PM Aleksandar Vucic from winning the presidential seat in the first round of the elections.

Srđan Ilić: Ljubiša Preletačević Beli
Photo: Srđan Ilić / Ljubiša Preletačević Beli

Flip-flopper announced his candidacy for the presidential seat on 4th March. It took him only one day to collect way more than the required 10,000 supporting signatures from the citizens. Many of political veterans in the Serbian political scene had to put much more effort and use their party infrastructure to reach this goal.

In order to get nominated for the presidency in the general elections, candidates are required to obtain at least 10,000 valid signatures from the citizens who are eligible to vote.

The name “Whitey the Flip-flopper” was adopted by a conceptual politician Luka Maksimovic as a form of ridicule because for decades, politicians in Serbia switch parties without any accountability to the voters. In each address to the public, he wears a white suit and a characteristic Mohawk haircut, instantly drawing attention of the public and becoming viral. His slogan for the presidential campaign is “The poor strike back.”

Flip-flopper started his political career last year, when his movement “You didn’t try sarma” won 13 out of 55 seats in the local assembly of Mladenovac - Belgrade’s municipality. He was campaigning dressed in white and riding a white horse. At the time, no one expected that his movement would become the second strongest party in the local assembly.

Problems with the Republic Electoral Commission

On Sunday evening, Flip-flopper and his supporters arrived to the REC headquarters in a white limousine followed by a brass band. They handed over 12,700 supporting signatures to the REC, but only a few hours later, the Republic Electoral Commission disputed his candidacy on the grounds that the signatures were problematic.

The members of the REC stated that the main issue with the submitted signature forms is the heading of the forms, because it does not have the "Group of citizens" written before "Whitey - Keep it strong."

His supporters reacted immediately, and the opposition political parties gave him support claiming that his candidacy is a test for the democratic system.

A member of the REC, Ivan Ninic, told that lack of the syntagm "group of citizens" absolutely does not affect the signatures, and that the citizens clearly know whom they support.

“This could be an intense legal debate that will ultimately move to the Administrative Court, regardless of the REC’s decision,” he said.

At the REC session held on Monday, it was ruled out that the signatures are acceptable, and 19 out of 21 members of the Commission voted Flip-flopper’s candidacy acceptable.

However, on Tuesday, a lawyer and a former right wing politician from Novi Sad Miro Jovanovic filed a complaint as a “concerned citizen” to the REC against the Flip-flopper’s presidential candidacy.

Only hours after Miro Jovanovic filed a complaint to the REC, his social media accounts were hacked, his e-mail was spammed, and his personal data, including tax payer number and mobile phone number were published. With the phone number, there was an instruction to call this number between 00:00 and 07:00 a.m. Allegedly, Jovanovic’s data were stolen either by Serbian Anonymous or by Flip-flopper's supporters.

He also referred to the argument of the missing “Group of citizens” syntagm. Jovanovic’s complaint was supported only by two members of the REC and, therefore, it was rejected the same day. The members who voted for the rejection of Flip-flopper’s candidacy are the representatives of Serbian Radical Party who serve at the REC.

Experts: Flip-flopper candidacy could lead to the second round

Marketing expert and media consultant Voja Zanetic told that the phenomenon of Whitey the Flip-flopper could be observed from the perspective of the Italian Movement Five Stars, whose leader is the comedian Beppe Grillo.

Zanetic explaines that, when it comes to the structure of voters, this type of politicians can bring out voters from abstinence, as the example of Beppe Grillo shows.

He added that this type of politicians is appealing to some citizens for criticizing the “official” politicians and even western type of democracy.

Zanetic claims that it is likely that a minimum of 100,000 citizens are considering to vote for Flip-flopper, and that Flip-flopper can count on the citizens who usually abstain from voting.

This would increase the number of votes necessary to win in the first round (50 per cent plus one vote). Moreover, a high turnout at the polls could even undermine the current PM Aleksandar Vucic’s goal to win the presidency in the first round. “We are a nation that appreciates humor, satire, and any kind of parody and reality shows. Having this in mind, Flip-flopper could achieve better results than the Italian movement Five Stars did when it was founded,” said Zanetic.

He also explained that Flip-flopper could win in a range from 1,4 per cent up to 7,0 per cent.

"My estimation is that somewhere between 350,000 and 550,000 people are indecisive of whether ’to vote or not to vote.’ This population could, as their first choice, vote for this parodic, anti-systemic, and rebellious option and, at the same time, remain or become abstinent in a way," adds Zanetic. According to the REC’s data on the presidential elections, around 6,7 million are eligible to vote.

Whitey the Flip-flopper told that he is counting on younger generation to vote for him. “Our target group is students and young people in general. These people now have an option to vote for. The fact that my candidacy got so much attention clearly shows that it is time for a new generation in the Serbian political scene,” Flip Flopper said.

When asked who would benefit more from the Flip-flopper’s candidacy, opposition or the ruling coalition, Zanetic said that he is not certain how many and whose abstinents Flip-flopper would “activate.”

Zanetic also said that, because of the Flip-floppers candidacy and a possible higher turnout at the polls, someone’s 50.1 per cent could become 49.9 per cent. According to him, Flip-flopper’s success could increase the chances for having the second round of the presidential race.

According to Bojan Klacar, the Executive Director of Belgrade based Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID), Flip-flopper’s candidacy will affect the rise of turnout at the polls, because he addresses the citizens who usually do not vote. However, Klacar said that it is more likely that Flip Flopper will “take” the votes of the center and center-left oriented citizens.

That means that the opposition votes would be split into even more columns.

“Flip-flopper will bring abstinents and those voting for the first time to the polls. But if he “takes” votes from other candidates, those votes would be from the reservoir of civic candidates rather than from the government,” he said.

Klacar added that, at this point, no one has got any statistics and all projections are based on the past experience.

“We cannot be certain, but I do not think that Flip-flopper’s entering the race will disturb dominant trends, although he could make the second round of the elections possible,” Klacar concluded.

Milivoje Pantovic

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