For Luka Maksimovic, politics are a laughing matter. For the satirist's alter ego, Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli, they are now serious business.
The approval of the 26-year-old's candidacy to run in Serbia's April 2 presidential election, along with 10 other candidates, is expected to inject some color and levity as he runs on the ticket of the Hit It Hard Beli! citizens group.
Formed as a protest against perceptions of deep corruption across the spectrum in Serbian politics, Hit it Hard Beli! has already had a modicum of success, placing second last year in a local election in his hometown of Mladenovac, just outside the capital, Belgrade.
Many Serbs are disillusioned with the country's politicians as they struggle to shake off a legacy of political corruption that has taken root since it emerged following the 1990s conflicts that broke apart Yugoslavia. Reforms aimed at modernizing the economy and bringing Serbia into the European Union have hit many workers hard, exacerbating the backlash.
"This is a serious joke. Not serious, not a joke, but a serious joke," he says of his campaign program.
"I think this is the moment when Serbia has awoken."
Approved to run in the vote by Serbia's Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) on March 14, Beli has wasted no time making his mark on the campaign trail.
Wearing his trademark all-white suit, tie and boots outfit, Beli boasts of being a caricature of all of the worst qualities of the country’s politicians: he says he holds a fake university degree, has wealth he can’t account for, and is willing to make promises he can’t keep.
“Maybe he’ll manage to scare those politicians who are in power for quite some time now. Maybe they’ll get scared that he is some kind of a spark that might light, cause a fire, win and eliminate them all," said Mihajlo Stokovic, a 19-year-old student at Belgrade University.
Current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the onetime information minister of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, is seen as a clear favorite
None of the opposition candidates -- including ex-Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, and former Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic -- is currently considered likely to present a major challenge to Vucic, whose candidacy to the largely ceremonial position is seen as a key test of his policies as the Balkan nation of 7.3 million moves closer to the European Union.
While Beli may have little chance of topping the polls, he can still make his mark in the election by increasing interest among the electorate and getting more voters to cast ballots, Vladimir Gajic, a member of the Electoral Commission, told N1 news.
"The appearance of Beli is part of a global trend, a rebellion and resistance to current political establishments," he added.
If Beli's candidacy provides the thorough shakeup the Serbian political system needs after years of decay, 22-year-old student Dusan Miskovic is all for it. Honesty, he said, has regrettably been in short supply.
"I like that he kind of ridiculed other candidates and I like his satirical presentation of the elections," Miskovic said. "He is honest, as he says, 'I would steal, but I would give to the people.' Nobody else would say that!"