So Serbia has elected a new Speaker of the Skupshtina, or Parliament. That’s the first step towards forming a new government. This after more than 100 days of post-election wrangling.
Should be good news, right? Except that they elected the leader of the Serbian Radical Party — the obnoxious populist-nationalist guys.
“Obnoxious” doesn’t really do it. The leader of the Radical Party is currently on trial in the Hague for war crimes. The acting leader has been accused of war crimes… plausibly accused, IMO, though there’s not enough evidence to bring it to trial. And the party in general is crawling with former paramilitaries, sleazy businessmen who got rich under Milosevic, and mouth-breathing beat-the-Gypsies racists. There’s not a lot to like. In the last election they played down the nationalist aspect and played up the economic populism — Jobs for everyone! We’ll crack down on corruption! Banks are charging too much interest — we’ll renationalize them!
The Radicals got about 28% of the vote, which means they took about 1/3 of the seats in Parliament. But they’re pariahs, so everyone figured the other parties would find a way to bury their differences and form a government.
The Radical leader got elected as part of a compromise between the Radicals and the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, the party of the incumbent Prime Minister. DSS got a haircut in January’s election, dropping from 53 seats to 47, but they’re still the third largest party… and they have just enough votes to claim a majority, if they join with the Radicals.
Could this happen? It’s hard to say. There’s still a week left to form a government before the constitutional deadline. (At which point new elections would have to be called.) Possibly this is a desperate tactic by DSS to force the other parties into a coalition.
But on the other hand, it would be pretty strange to elect a Speaker and then dissolve the legislature just a week later.
I want to write about what this could mean for Serbia but, frankly, I’m finding it too depressing. Short version: a Radical government would be seen as a major step backwards. It would freeze Serbia’s hopes for EU candidacy, and seriously damage Serbia’s relations with its neighbors. If it lasts more than a year or two, it would probably do some serious damage to Serbia’s none-too-sturdy economy. In comment threads elsewhere, I’ve seen Albanians chuckling that it would lead to independence for Kosovo, but even that’s not clear — the question of independence lies with the UN Security Council. The Panamanians and Congolese are not likely to grasp the significance of a Radical Serbia. And if the Ahtisaari plan is rejected in the UNSC, the rest of the world will be very slow to recognize Kosovo, Radicals or not.
(At this point someone may point out that DSS leader Kostunica would still be Prime Minister, and really it would be a minority DSS government elected with Radical support. Well, the Radicals have 81 votes to DSS’ 47. So they might begin as junior partners, but one doubts they’d stay that way.)
It still might not happen. But if it does, it’s just going to suck all around. For Serbia, for Kosovo, for the region.
Well, we’ll know soon enough.