It started as a joke, a way to poke fun at a discredited political class in elections last year for the local assembly in this rundown town in central Serbia. Communications student Luka Maksimovic, 25, donned a white suit and loafers, an over-sized gold watch and gaudy ring, and rode a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Mladenovac, promising jobs and cash to anyone who would give him their vote. He assumed the guise of the worst kind of politician – a sleazy fraudster he duly christened Ljubisa ‘Beli’ Preletacevic. Beli means white in Serbian, while Preletacevic denotes somebody who switches political party for personal gain. Spreading the word on Youtube and Facebook, his party won 20 percent of the vote. “We were just fooling around,” Maksimovic said. But Serbia’s political establishment isn’t laughing anymore.
With a presidential election due on April 2, an opinion poll published on Monday has Maksimovic’s alter ego coming second, albeit far behind the overwhelming favorite, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
Such a result – barely a week after Maksimovic entered the race – represents a damning indictment of Serbia’s beleaguered mainstream opposition and sends a worrying message to the ruling Progressive Party about the depth of popular disenchantment in this impoverished corner of Europe.