The Elections of 1923 in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes



Matthew M. Meštrović


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Journal of Croatian Studies, I, 1960, pages 44-52  – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.

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The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was established on December 1, 1918 at the end of World War I. In March 1919 the Provisional National Assembly met in Belgrade. The first legislature of the new state was an appointed body constituted from representatives apportioned among the various provinces by the political parties supporting Yugoslav Union. The country's first general election for a Constituent Assembly was held on November 28, 1924 by an affirmative vote of 223 of its 419 members the Assembly enacted the Vidovdan Constitution, on St. Vitus Day, June 28, 1921.


The second general election after the establishment of the state took, place on March 18, 1923. 1n these elections 2,167,000 voters cast their ballots, 570,000 more than in the elections of November 28, 1920.[1] The sharp increase in the vote wag general throughout the country, and it was due not only to the rise in the number of eligible voters but also to a greater political awareness of the people. As in the 1920 elections, the vote was heaviest in the western regions of the country. In Slovenia in 1923 over 79 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots compared to 68 percent in 1920. In Croatia-Slavonia 78 percent voted as compared to 68 percent in the elections for the Constituent Assembly. In Montenegro the respective percentages for the two elections were 66 and 65.[2]


In accordance with the new electoral law, the National Assembly of 1923 comprised 314 deputies, or 105 less than the Constituent Assembly. Since the population statistics and estimates of 1910 were used as the basis for the apportionment of parliamentary seats, Serbia within her 1914 limits was again heavily favored. The seats were assigned to the several provinces in the following ratio: Serbia and Macedonia 116, Croatia-Slavonic 68, Slovenia 26, Bosnia-Hercegovina 48, Vojvodina 34, Dalmatia 15, Montenegro 1.[3]. The Assembly elected in 1923, included 168 Serbs (53 percent of the total membership), 78 Catholic Croats (25 percent), 19 Bosnian Moslems (6 percent), 25 Slovenes (8 percent), 8 Germans, 12 Albanians, 3 Turks, and 1 Rumanian.[4]


The Serbians received an unduly large segment of Assembly seats because of an additional factor. The Belgrade government considered the Orthodox Macedonians as Serbians, and it did not permit Macedonian nationalists or Bulgarian sympathizers to run for election in Macedonia.


Following are the election results indicating the breakdown of the vote by parties and also the number of seats the various groups received in the National Assembly.[5]









of Votes


of Votes





















Croatian Republican Peasant Party










Kmetijci (Slovene Agrarians)





Slovene People's. Party





Bunjevci (Vojvodina Croats)





Croatian People's Party





Yugoslav Moslem Organization (M. Spaho)





Yugoslav Moslem Organization (Maglajlić)















Social Democrats










Montenegrin Federalists





German Party





Serbian Party





Rumanian Party





Hungarian Party

















(Others: Republicans, 18941; Croatian Party of Right, 8089; National Socialists, 4064; Serbian Progressives, 1541; Serbian Liberals, 3384; Veterans Party, 3642; Peasant Party of Prekomurje 3384; Czech Party, 1541; Independent Moslem Party, 3642 Šušterčić's Party, 1361; Croatian Union, 2408; Disabled Veterans, 2682; Croat Bloc, 2424; Kirijadžijska Party, 321).


The great victors of the elections were the Radical Party, the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, the Slovene People's Party, and the Yugoslav Moslem Organization. Each group emerged as the almost unchallenged spokesman of a distinct national and/or religious group. In the minds of the peoples of Yugoslavia the solution of economic, class, and cultural problems became identified with the achievement of their individual national and religious aspirations.


The great losers of the election were the Democratic Party, the various moderate Croatian groups, and the Agrarian Party. The Communist Party had been illegal since the summer of 1921, and the various Communist or pro-Communist candidates running on several allegedly socialist tickets received a total of only about 24,000 votes.



The Yugoslav Democratic Party


The Democratic Party, which at least in theory advocated Serb-Croat-Slovene equality and unity, suffered a serious setback in the elections of March 18, 1923. Although it received 400,342 votes (80,894 more than in 1920) or about 18 percent of all ballots cast, it elected only W deputies (16 percent of the total).


The party was split into two bitterly rival factions, one under Pribićević, the other under Davidović. Pribićević was the leader of the Serbian minority inhabiting Croatia-Slavonia, while Davidović headed the Democrats from Serbia proper, Macedonia, Vojvodina, and Montenegro. After the elections the final break between the two groups took place, and twelve deputies under Pribićević joined forces with Pašić's Radicals, while the remaining 39 deputies joined the ranks of the opposition.[6]


The Democratic Party had lost a large number of its seats in parliament precisely because its vote was scattered throughout the country. The electoral law had been so devised as to favor strong regional groups, giving premiums to the party or parties receiving a large segment of the vote in a particular electoral district. Thus the Democratic Party was able to elect deputies only in the district where it possessed a large sectional following.


In Croatia-Slavonia the Democrats ran strongly mainly in districts with a substantial Serbian population electing a total of 10 deputies. In Slovenia the party maintained its previous position. It received 14,660 votes (out of a total of 178,697) and elected one deputy.[7] In Montenegro, the two rival Democratic lists received, respectively, 6,965 votes and 1,449 votes giving the party two deputies. Vojvodina sent to the National Assembly 5 Democrats and Dalmatia one while the entire party slate in Bosnia-Hercegovina went down to ignominious defeat. Serbia and Macedonia remained the principal bastions of the party electing 32 Democrats to parliament.[8] In fact Serbia and Macedonia cast more Democratic votes than in 1921, but owing to a sharp increase of the total number of ballots cast the party's percentage of the total vote decreased. Also, because the Radicals vote doubled in many districts, the Democrats were deprived of seats they previously held.[9]



The Radical Party


The Radical Party received in 1923 almost double the number of votes it had gathered in 1920. From 284,575 it jumped to 562,213 registering an increase of 277,638 votes. It emerged from the elections of 1923 as the representative of a majority of the Serbian people electing 66 deputies out of 116 alloted Serbia and Macedonia. In the other regions of Yugoslavia the Radicals elected the following number of deputies: Montenegro 3 (out of 7); Croatia-Slavonic 6 (out of 68); Dalmatia 5 (out of 15); Vojvodina 15 (out of 34); Bosnia-Hercegovina 13 (out of 48); Slovenia 0 (out of 26).[10] The election statistics indicate that the Radicals generally gained their greatest successes in Serbia proper and other regions with a substantial Serbian population such as Vojvodina. In Croatia-Slavonia the Radical stronghold was Srijem where many Serbians live. Only in Dalmatia did the party receive a substantial Croatian vote.


The amazing victory of the Radicals was largely due to the party's appeal to the Serbians at a time of growing national antagonism and bitterness. The Radicals had led Serbia since the assassination of Alexander Obrenović in 1903. In the minds of the people the party was identified with the amazing expansion of Serbia during the first two decades of the century, the defeat of the Turks and the Bulgarians in the Balkan wars, the liberation of "Old Serbia", the struggle and victory in the World War, the unification of all segments of the Serbian nation under the Karađorđević dynasty. It is not surprising, therefore, that at a time of growing crisis, when Serbian hegemony was threatened by the Croats united behind the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, the Serbian people gave their overwhelming support to the Radical Party.


For a few years, following the establishment of the new state, a coalition of Serbian opposition parties, Bosnian Serbian groups, Serbian and Croatian elements from Croatia-Slavonia, amalgamated in the Democratic Party, had challenged the supremacy of the Radicals. But by 1923 it was apparent to the Serbian people that the Democrats had neither, cohesion nor unity of purpose, and they voted in overwhelming numbers for Pašić and his followers.


The Radicals were opposed to Yugoslav nationalism. They conceived the Serbs; Croats, and Slovenes as three distinct peoples and the union of December 1, 1918, as the union of three distinct national elements. Since the Serbs were the strongest and most numerous group in the multinational South Slav state, they had both the power and the right to play a leading role in the country. Since its formation in the 1880's the Radicals had striven for the unification of all Serbs into a Serbian state. They were not interested in including large numbers of Catholics into this "Great Serbia" and were consequently willing to grant the Croats autonomy and perhaps even independence within the limits of a truncated Croatia. The 1923 elections showed that there was widespread support among the Serbian masses for such a solution of the "Croatian problem."



The Croatian Republican Peasant Party


The Croatian Republican Peasant Party registered a smashing victory in all Croatian regions. It received 473,733 votes, more than double the 230,590 it had received in the elections of November 28, 1920, increasing its total vote by 243,133.[11]


The Peasant Party received about 90 percent of the total Croatian Roman Catholic Vote. Other Croatian parties (the Croatian People's Party, the Croatian Party of Right, Croatian Union, Croatian Bloc, and so forth) gathered only about 7 percent of the Croatian ballots.[12] The Social Democrats, Democrats, Radicals, and Communists obtained a small percentage of Croatian votes.


Only 27,092 Croats voted for parties generally favoring a federated Yugoslav state, while 482,822 voted for groups favoring separate Croatian statehood.[13]. Out of a total of 78 Croatian deputies elected in 1923, 68 were members of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, 5 were Democrats, 3 were "Bunjevci" (Croatian People's Party from Bačka), and 2 were Independents from Dalmatia.[14]


The 70 Croatian Peasant Party deputies were apportioned as follows among the four provinces where the party had presented lists of candidates: Croatia-Slavonia 52 deputies (out of a total of 68), Dalmatia 7 (out of 15), Bosnia-Hercegovina 9 (out of 48), and Slovenia 2 (out of 26).[15] The Peasant Party's percentage of the total vote cast ranged from 89 percent in the district of Varaždin to a low of 6 percent in the district of Bihać.[16]


The election results vindicated Radić's efforts to unite the Croatian people, his opposition to the proclamation of Yugoslav union, his boycott of the Constituent Assembly, his condemnation of the Vidovdan Constitution, and his demands for a Croatian Peasant Republic. In 1920 the Peasant Party had campaigned exclusively in Croatia-Slavonia and had obtained all its support from that province. In 1923 Radić extended his political activities to all the other areas with a substantial Croatian population and even made inroads in Slovenia by electing two deputies in the district of Maribor.


On March 18, 1923, the Croatian nation had almost unanimously endorsed the Peasant Party and the leadership of Radić. Thus, the party itself changed to a certain extent in complexion. - It was no longer a class movement fighting for peasant rights as against the urban bourgeoisie. It had become the embodiment of the entire Croatian people, of farmers, workers, and businessmen, left-wingers, moderates, and right-wingers, poor and rich alike.



The Slovene People's Party


In the three electoral districts into which Slovenia was divided, 178,598 voters cast their ballots. The Slovene People's Party received 107,497 votes, or approximately 60 percent of the total, and elected 21 of the 26 deputies alloted Slovenia.[17] In 1920 the party of Korošec had received only 37 percent of the Slovene vote and had elected 13 out of 40 deputies.


The Slovene People's Party emerged from the elections of March 1923, as the spokesman of the Slovene people. The once powerful Slovene Agrarians and Social Democrats had been overwhelmed at the polls. The Slovene Agrarians, who had sided with the Pašić government at the time of the enactment of the Vidovdan Constitution, received only 11,029 votes and elected only one deputy, while the Social Democrats were deprived of all representation.


The success of the People's Party was due to several factors. It combined moderate socialist views with Catholicism, and it demanded Slovene self-government, while wishing to preserve the broader Yugoslav union essential to protect Slovenia from being absorbed by the Germans and Italians.



The Yugoslav Moslem Organization


The Yugoslav Moslem Organization had emerged from the elections of November 28, 1920, as the sole representative of the Moslems from Bosnia-Hercegovina. At first the party had fought strongly for the establishment of a federal form of government but had later agreed to vote for the centralist Vidovdan Constitution. In March 1922, the Yugoslav Moslem Organization split into two rival factions of twelve deputies each. The group led by Spaho broke with the Pašić administration, joined the opposition, and condemned the division of the country into thirty-three administrative departments. The faction led by Maglajlić continued supporting the ruling coalition of Radicals and Democrats and the implementation of the Constitution.


Thus in the 1923 elections two rival lists of candidates vied for the Moslem vote in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Maglajlić faction was completely annihilated at the polls electing no deputies and receiving a grand total of only 6,074 votes. The Moslem electorate voted in bloc for the Spaho led group giving it 112,228 votes.[18] With 19 deputies out of 48 alloted Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Yugoslav Moslem constituted the strongest single party in that province. As in 1920, the Moslem deputies elected in 1923, were mostly intellectuals and professional men.[19] This indicated that class antagonism was insignificant within the Bosnian Moslem community and that the dominant feeling was one of cultural and religious solidarity. The election further showed that the masses of the Moslems from Bosnia-Hercegovina disapproved of the Serbian centralist policies of the Belgrade government and that they were determined to maintain their group identity and cohesion.



Džemijet (Albanian and Turk Party)


The election results for most of the districts of Macedonia and Kosmet-Metohija were not published in the Službene Novine. But statistics printed in Nova Evropa[20] show that the bulk of the Džemijet's strength came from six districts of Macedonia and Kosmet-Metohija heavily populated by Moslem Albanians and Turks.


In 1920 the Džemijet received 30,029 votes and elected 8 deputies (out of a total of 419); in 1923 the party received 71,493 votes and elected 14 deputies (out of 314). The success of the Džemijet in Moslem districts of Macedonia and Kosmet-Metohija was probably due to several factors. The Albanians and Turks found it repugnant to vote for either the Radicals or the Democrats. In 1920, two opposition parties campaigned in the region, the Communists and the Džemijet, and both received substantial support from Moslem Albanians and Turks. In 1923 the voters of Kosmet-Metohija and Macedonia were in most cases only offered the choice of voting for the Radicals, the Democrats, or the Džemijet (in some of the districts the Serbian Agrarian party and Communist-oriented candidates also campaigned). The Moslem Turks and Albanians preferred to cast their ballots for the Džemijet.



The Communists


The Communist Party had registered a tremendous electoral success in 1920, receiving almost 200,000 votes and electing 58 deputies to the Constituent Assembly. But in 1921, as has been mentioned, it was outlawed and party members were forced underground. In the elections of 1923 the Communist Party as such did not participate. However, several former Communist deputies ran for election as independents or under various alleged socialist, labels. It is estimated that all the Communist oriented candidates together received about 24,000 votes, or slightly over 12 percent of their 1920 total.


The decline of Communist strength can be attributed to a certain extent to political and police pressure exercised by the Belgrade government. However, this undoubtedly was not the only reason. Dušan Cekic, the Communist deputy elected in 1920 in the district of Skoplje, ran again in 1923. Although he was not running as the official candidate of the Communist Party (since the party was illegal), the voters must have been aware of his political past and affiliation. They could have given him their votes, yet they did not. The same occurred in other districts indicating that the appeal of the Communist Party was definitely on the wane after 1921.



[1][1] The Nation (New York), February 25, 1925.

[2][2] Službene Novinu Kraljevine Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca, issues of March and April, 1923. Hereafter Službene Novine.

[3][3] Ivo Belin, "Malo izborne statistike," Nova Evropa (Zagreb), vol. VII, No. 11, April 11, 1923, p. 331-32, tables Ia and lb.

[4][4] These figures were compiled from information published in The Nation, op. cit., and I. Belin, ibid.

[5][5] The statistical table was compiled from the following sources: Obzor Spomen Knjiga. 1860-1935 (Zagreb, 1936); The Nation, ibid.; l. Belin, ibid.; Službene Novine, op. cit.

[6][6] The Nation, ibid.

[7][7] Službene Novine, op. cit.

[8][8] l. Belin, op. cit.

[9][9] See election figures for various districts published in Službene Novine, op. cit.

[10][10] I. Belin, op. cit.

[11][11] The Nation, op. cit.

[12][12] Excluding the Croatian Republican Peasant Party, all the other Croatian parties received a combined total of 35186 votes.

[13][13] The figure 482822 is obtained by adding the vote of the Croatian Party of Right (8089) to that of the Croatian Republican Peasant Party.

[14][14] Službene Novine, op. cit.

[15][15] l. Belin, op. cit., p. 332, table Ib.

[16][16] Službene Novine, op. cit.

[17][17] Ibid.

[18][18] Ibid.

[19][19] Ibid.

[20][20] I. Belin, op. cit., p. 331, table Ia.