Serbia: Elections at last

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.

17 thoughts on “Serbia: Elections at last

  1. “G17 — the liberal technocrat Europhile party”
    Sounds like my kind of party!! They need to spread to other European countries.

  2. If the administration cannot be voted out, it will rot, especially in an area not noted for the absense of corruption. It seems to me only a question of time until the radicals make it.

  3. David, G17 got 12% of the vote. By way of comparison, the “gouge out their eyes” SRS got 37%.

    Oliver, you’re assuming that the coalition will be the smae. Bzzt. Unlikely. Yes, it will be pretty much the same parties, but there will be considerable churn on the voting lists, and the proportions are likely to change drastically. For instance, the largest party in the coalition — Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia — is likely to lose ground, while Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party has a decent chance of gaining some. Probably between a quarter and a third of Parliament will roll over, and I’ll be surprised if more than two or three Ministers are the same.

    Oh, and the rules have been modified so that at least one small ethnic party — the Hungarians — is likely to get seats.

    Doug M.

  4. Hmmm… Me thinks the party of PM Koshtunitsa (DSS; Democr. Party of Serbia) and President Tadich’s Democratic Party (DS) should be able to form the next gov’t. They can always offer a minor portfolio to some small party should they fall just short of 126 seats. How stable would such a cabinet be? I don’t know.

    What needs to be done is the Radicals have to be brought into the mainstream. You can’t have 35% of the electorate perpetually sitting on the fringes (in addition to 1.5 million abstainers!).

    The reason they’re so strong has nothing to do with domestic politics (what have THEY ever done for Serbia that’s even remotely positive?). The dynamics of Serbian party politics is by and large determined by the outside actors such as the Hague, the EU, Washington…

  5. Hmmm… Me thinks the party of PM Koshtunitsa (DSS; Democr. Party of Serbia) and President Tadich’s Democratic Party (DS) should be able to form the next gov’t. They can always offer a minor portfolio to some small party should they fall just short of 126 seats. How stable would such a cabinet be? I don’t know.

    What needs to be done is the Radicals have to be brought into the mainstream. You can’t have 35% of the electorate perpetually sitting on the fringes (in addition to 1.5 million abstainers!).

    The reason they’re so strong has nothing to do with domestic politics (what have THEY ever done for Serbia that’s even remotely positive?). The dynamics of Serbian party politics is by and large determined by the outside actors such as the Hague, the EU, Washington…

  6. So the power of patronage is not vested in the government in Serbia? We got corruption, and jobs for incompetent followers in government owned companies in western Europe. You don’t need a seat in parliament to live on public money. You need friends in parliament.

  7. Obnoxious, nationalist party? Yes thats why half the country supports them. Actually the reason they have so much support is because they are the only party whose stated goal is for the various serbian republics in the balkans to be one country. This is also the wish of the citizens of the serb republics, but they dont have the benefit of a referendum on unity. Of course this goes counter to the wests neo-colonialist agenda. The wests goal is to break up serbia into small protectorates that take orders from brussels and washington.

  8. Oliver, I’m not sure what you’re going on about. Sure, there’s corruption in Serbia. How does this connect to coalition politics?

    Stevan: it’s “the wish of the Serb republics” to unite? That’s strange… I could have sworn the Montenegrins had a vote on that just a few months ago.

    Hey, who was that I saw in Podgorica last week? Why, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Agim Ceku, visiting his Montenegrin friends.

    So, no, not really.

    Doug M.

  9. The presence of a party which will be a part of any administration gives this party enormous opportunities in the field of patronage. IMHO this is exactly what got Berlusconi into government.

    “the wish of the Serb republics” to unite

    Would you make that judgement for the Bosnian Serbs, too?

  10. Oliver, he said “various Serb republics”. One and a half is not “various”.

    Your point on patronage is well taken, but I don’t think it applies strongly to Serbia (yet). Parliament is relatively weak; most patronage power rests with the executive. In rough order, the PM, the ministers, and the president.

    This is why the apportionment of ministries is going to be interesting.

    Doug M.

  11. I don’t think it applies strongly to Serbia (yet)

    As of now, probably not. But they are going down that road.

    most patronage power rests with the executive

    That is exactly my point. Given a parliamentary system of government and one strong fundamental opposition, the centrist parties will always be in power. They will find a way to protect their interests.

    The status quo is unstable. If they keep this up, eventually a radical majority is inevitable.

  12. Yes, DC was a shining beacon of ethics and had no ties whatsoever to any shady organisation.
    Any party with no opposition to fear will be spoiled.

  13. Doug: “. . . the largest party in the coalition — Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia — is likely to lose ground, while Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party has a decent chance of gaining some.”

    Think this is a bit of a misreading of the situation. On the important issues, DSS isn’t much of a different creature than SRS: Kostunica is rehabilitating the Milosevic legacy and leading Serbia toward a sort of soft authoritarianism. DS and G17 have seen their support erode because they both cravenly backed the referendum.

    ÄŒedomir Jovanović’s LDP was up to 5% in the summer and, by most estimates, has trebled that level of support. Expect to see LDP make big gains at the expense of DS, and some kind of entente between Kostunica and DSS.

  14. Turn Mladic over. I seen the old men, women and children fleeing through the snow over frozen mountains to escape your “Brave” Serb fighters.

  15. mijawara I havent seen ONE estimate of support for Cedomir Jovanovic being 15 percent.

    Do you have a link for that figure?

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