So Serbia has finally called for elections.
I admit that I was wrong about this government’s tenacity. I predicted back in July that the government would collapse in October. Not so. It has staggered on, month after month… gasping, retching, coughing blood, but somehow refusing to die. It bought a few weeks by holding a referendum on a new Constitution, which was pretty useless but got voted in anyway. Then G17 — the liberal technocrat Europhile party, the smallest member of the ruling coalition — gave the government a few weeks more by the Kafkaesque maneuver of having all its ministers resign, but not actually leave office until the government accepted their resignations. Which took nearly two months.
But anyway, elections are coming, and a date has been set: January 21, 2007.
So what does it all mean?
Probably not much.
There are two ways this can go: Either the SRS and their allies get a majority, or they don’t.
The SRS is the Serbian Radical Party, the obnoxious nationalist xenophobes. Their erstwhile leader, Vojislav Seselj, is a prisoner in the Hague, indicted for war crimes. But the SRS is rolling along just fine without him; they are by far the largest party in Parliament, with about 35% of the seats. And polls show they’ll probably get about the same number in the next one. There may also be one or two smaller parties that would ally with the SRS… the Socialists, for instance. (These are the Socialists of Milosevic. We’re not talking Segolene Royale, here.)
Now, if the SRS and their friends do very well, they just might barely squeeze out a majority. But it’s unlikely. More likely the SRS will get around 40% of the vote. And they’re pariahs — none of the “mainstream” parties will enter a coalition with them. There may be one or two SRS-friendly parties, but they’ll be tiny, around 5%. (The Socialists are currently at around 7%, and they’ll be lucky to do that well next time.) So SRS end up in opposition again.
But… if the SRS gets around 40%, then in order to form a government, you need a coalition of pretty much everyone but the SRS. That’s what Serbia has had for the last two and a half years.
And it sucks. You have liberals and conservatives, technocrats and monarchists, ex-Communists and ex-dissidents and mystic nationalists, all trying to get along in one government. It’s just a mess. Last time it took more than two months to form a government after the elections. This time it should be quicker, but the outcome is unlikely to be much better.
Also, the new government will be faced with the same difficult-to-intractable problems of the old one. Kosovo is still going to gain its independence. (The UN is politely putting its recommendation off until after the elections, but that’s just delaying the inevitable.) Candidacy talks with the EU are still stalled dead until Serbia produces Gen. Ratko Mladic, and Mladic is stubbornly remaining unproduced. Unemployment is still over 20%.
So, while the campaign is sure to be nasty, the outcome is likely to be boring, and the aftermath depressing.