So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.
Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.
A bit more below the flip.
Here’s the key fact about parliamentary politics in Serbia: the biggest single party is the Serbian Radical Party, which is the party of evil dickhead nationalists.
In the last election (2003), the Radicals got 27.6% of the vote, which gave them 82 seats in the 250-member Parliament. In this election, they got 28.3% of the vote, which will give them 81 seats in Parliament. From this we can reasonably infer that the Radicals have a pretty solid base, and are not going away any time soon.
Further: the next two largest parties, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia (different… yes, it is confusing) will get just 65 and 47 seats each.
The problem here is that as long as the Radicals get around a third of the seats in Parliament, and no other party gets as many, any Serbian government will have to include almost every other party. And the other parties hate each other almost as much as they all hate and fear the Radicals.
Here are the numbers (subject to tweaking as final results trickle in):
As noted, the Radicals are the obnoxious xenophobic populist-nationalist party. They’re radioactive — no government can form a coalition that includes them, because that would instantly send Serbia back to pariah status and sink Serbia’s (faint) hopes of EU candidacy. (The party leader is currently in the middle of a war crimes trial at the Hague.) But they can’t be ignored, either.
Party of late Prime Minister Djindjic and current President Boris Tadic, these guys will get first crack at forming a government. Good luck with that. The Democrats are sort of a party of the center-left, if such things have any meaning in Serbia. They got hit hard with corruption issues in 2003-4, but have bounced back under the relatively popular President. Insofar as there’s a winner here, it’s DS — they nearly doubled their seats, up from 37 the last time.
Democrats of Serbia (DSS)
Party of current Prime Minister Kostunica. Sort of a party of the center-right with a populist streak. They’re the respectable nationalists. Kostunica has trouble getting along with other politicians, and DS and DSS hate each other a lot. They’re natural enemies who have been forced into coalition. Serbia is not Germany, so this has not worked so well. (Not that it’s necessarily working great in Germany, but you get the idea.)
Like most incumbent governments in this part of the world, DSS expected to take it on the chin. Under the circumstances, they didn’t do so badly, losing just six seats (47 down from 53).
The liberal Europhile urban technocrats. (Man, isn’t that a weird name for a party? To me it sounds more like a high-end shampoo.) They just squeaked back in with under 6% of the vote — 5% was needed to get seats. They managed to severely discredit themselves in the previous government, partly through internal confusion, partly because they were everyone else’s favorite hapless whipping boy. Down from 34 seats last time… a big hit, but on the other hand, it wasn’t clear they’d even survive.
Milosevic’s old party, leftover Communists and whatnot who have been wiggling their way back towards respectability. The only ones who would form a government with the Radicals. Down from 22 MPs last time, another one that just barely survived.
Liberal Democrat coalition
Man, I’m not even going to try to explain these guys. A coalition of several minor parties, not particularly liberal or democratic. Dominated by former Djindjic protege Cedomir Jovanovic, a handsome fellow who is perhaps the single strangest major player in Serbian politics. (Someone described him as “Act Three of a five-act Chekhov play”.)
After the last election, the rules were amended so that parties representing ethnic minorities could get into Parliament with just 0.4% of the vote. So, some Hungarians. (Some other Hungarians joined the LD coalition. In fact, almost every minority in Serbia has at least two parties, and some have four or five.
Okay, strictly speaking these are the Muslim Serbs who live down in the Sandjak, which is between Montenegro and Bosnia. They’re not supposed to be Bosniaks; they’re Muslim Serbs. Of course, this begs the question of what Bosniaks are… but anyhow, these guys pretty much sat out the wars (having a large army base overlooking their major town may have been an issue here) but have a lot of complicated internal politics. Well, like everyone else in Serbia.
Aaaaand the Roma. Two parties, one squeaked in. Have there been any Roma in Serbian politics before? Probably one or two under Communism.
Interestingly absent from this list: the Serbian Renewal Party of Vuk Draskovic. They joined with the DSS in a deal that put Draskovic on a short leash, the other end of which will be held by Kostunica. (If you don’t know who Vuk Draskovic is, don’t worry — you’re not missing much.)
So. 250 seats, 126 needed to form a government. Who you gonna call?
Look at those numbers again. The Radicals are pariahs. The DSS and DS hate each other… but it is impossible for either to form a government without the other! Put both Radicals and DSS in opposition, and you have an “opposition” of 127 votes. D’oh! And, of course, putting DS into opposition is even worse.
So, unless something totally bizarre happens, we’re going to see another government built around a DS-DSS entente. And even that only gives 112 votes, so they’ll have to tack on a third coalition partner, either G17 or the Liberal Democrat mess. Both of those will complicate matters mightily.
Having said this, I must add that this could be better — slightly — than the last government, which was a truly ridiculous Frankenstein monster of a coalition, with liberals, conservatives, technocrats, socialists, monarchists, mystical nationalists, and, really, the kitchen sink. This one may at least have fewer actors.
On the other hand, Marti Ahtisaari goes live with his “proposal” for Kosovo in the first week of February. That should have an interesting effect on things. Order your tickets now.
All in all, not wonderful, but probably about as good as could be expected.