Serbia: Kostunica would prefer not to

With three days to go before Serbia’s Presidential runoff, Prime Minister Kostunica has announced that he won’t endorse either candidate.

This is a boost to Radical Tomislav Nikolic — in the final Presidential debate last night, he thanked Kostunica for not taking a side — and a rather large slap in the face to incumbent Boris Tadic. Kostunica’s party is in coalition with Tadic’s; and when the coalition agreed to make Kostunica PM last year, part of the deal was that he’d support Tadic’s re-election. I haven’t yet been able to find what justification Kostunica is giving for reneging (or whether he’s given any at all) — if anyone knows, I’d be interested to hear.

As to why Kostunica did it… well, he hates Tadic. He endorsed him last time, but only grudgingly and at the last minute. This time I guess he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Kostunica is something of a plodder: patient, pedantic, methodical, not too charismatic, and very, very stubborn. These traits served him well when he was an opposition leader, back in the last days of Milosevic; his patience and determination helped carry him to an improbable victory, back in October 2000. Since then, we’ve seen a less admirable side of his character: like many slow and stubborn people, he’s instinctively distrustful of those who are quicker, more charming, and more clever. Since politics tends to attract the clever and charming, this means Kostunica is very quick to make enemies.

If you’re following Serbian politics, you know all about the two candidates and what they stand for: Tadic the Democrat, a rather bland proponent of a “normal” Serbia and EU membership; Nikolic the Radical, once a fire-breathing nationalist, now rebranded as a “moderate” populist. A recent poll shows Tadic ahead by a whisker, but at this point it looks like anyone’s race.

Anyway. It does make for an interesting situation. Normally, when a country has a mixed Presidential-Ministerial form of government, the idea is that the President is head of state and at least pretends to stand above politics, while the Prime Minister is openly partisan. In Serbia, though, we have a bare-knuckles fight for the Presidency, with the Prime Minister standing ostentatiously aside and acting as if, really, the whole thing were beneath his dignity.

We’ll know the winner this weekend.

4 thoughts on “Serbia: Kostunica would prefer not to

  1. At his press conference, Kostunica sort of blamed his coalitian partner Ilic’s refusal for not being able to officially support Tadic. Though perhaps he was just weaseling.

    Let me be a bit contrarian: If Tadic wins without DSS support, he will (hopefully) take a more independent stand on some issues. And if Nikolic wins – bad for Serbia, yes, but “fear of a Radical victory” has been a factor in Western policy decisions for way too long now.

  2. Agreed: this constant manipulation of the European capitals by referring to the spectre of a Radical victory has to stop somewhere, and it might as will be after this crucial vote.

    In the end, there is not a single viable policy option available to Nikolic that would not also be considered by Tadic after Kosovo declares independence. If anything, Serbia’s “losing” Kosovo under a Radical presidency might propel democrats in all camps to assume a more liberal–and practical–position on the issue, and start the long walk toward Europe in earnest.

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Serbia: Kostunica’s Choice

  4. I agree. I think that the two candidates are closely aligned. The “radical” presidential candidate has only gained in popularity as his policies adopt stances slightly closer to his rival’s than the party’s more initially radical perspectives.

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