Serbia, day 41

Still no government in Serbia.

Parliamentary elections were held on January 21. It’s now March 1. The parties are still unable to agree. The previous ministers are staying on as a “transition” government.

Last time around — three years ago, early 2004 — it took them about 70 days. So I wouldn’t hold my breath. Article 109 of the new Serbian Constitution requires that a government be formed within 90 days, or Parliament gets dissolved and new elections called. It would not surprise me to see the various political parties, through stubbornness and brinksmanship, go right up to that line.

Why is it taking so long, again? Well, I have two working theories.

1) It’s an artifact of the weird political situation in Serbia. The biggest party, the populist and ultra-nationalist Radicals, are pariahs; nobody dares form a government with them. But without the radicals, the next two biggest parties — Democrats and Serbian Democrats — must join together, along with a minor party or two. And these two parties hate each other a lot. So they’re not going to reach an agreement easily, or soon.

2) It has something to do with the Serbian national character. It may be that the Serbs, like the Italians, just have trouble making parliamentary democracy work smoothly.

I don’t have a clear favorite yet among these two.

Thoughts?

A Crisis is Born in Italy

Well as almost everyone must surely know by now, Romano Prodi’s government resigned earlier in the week. The present situation is still far from clear, with President Giorgio Napolitano holding urgent consultations with the various interested parties even as I write. Since my interest in Italy is largely an economic one (see accompanying post to follow this) and since I do not consider myself to be any sort of expert on the Italian political process, I asked Manuel Alvarez Rivera (who runs the Election Resources on the Internet site) and who is a political scientist with detailed knowledge of Italian politics for an opinion. Below the fold you can find what he sent me.

At the same time anyone inside or outside of Italy with a different take or perspective please feel free to add something in the comments section.
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Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

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.
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Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
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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?
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Municipal and provincial elections in Belgium

A very quick and summary update on the municipal and provincial elections in Belgium, which get more and more complicated what with all the “cartels”. The general idea is one of power consolidation for the ruling parties, with the Christian Democrats and Flemish nationalists the big winners in Flanders and the Socialist Party getting away nicely in the Walloon provinces.
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Virtual politics and real bullets

The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her reporting on the North Caucasus wars, was murdered yesterday in an evident assassination (three shots, two to the chest and one to the head) in the lift leading to her home. It was the birthday of the Russian President, and just after the birthday of the Russian-appointed prime minister of Chechnya, who she was about to accuse of torture. After a week of rising hysteria in the Russian media and state, with a wave of goon-squad assaults on Georgian businesses and the collection of sinister lists of Georgian-sounding schoolchildren – what, pray, is the purpose of this? – this ought to inter any lingering myths of Russian democracy. It is time to grasp that we are sharing a continent with a very large tyranny, in fact, that we never ceased to do so.

Exactly what will happen next is unclear, but the worst must be assumed. The reaction of Europe so far appears to be deafening silence. See the BBC report above for a tasty quote from the secretary of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, suggesting she was killed by “self-appointed executioners”. Self-appointed? I don’t think his Midlands constituents lost very much when they voted him out back in 2004. No Baltic gas pipelines were involved, so German silence is a given, France will presumably continue to find Russian support on the UNSC useful, and Britain will probably shut up – hasn’t Tony Blair prided himself on his personal relationship with Putin? (Personal politics, the great delusion of the last hundred years.)

If you need any convincing, I recommend Andrew Wilson’s book Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. This is a truly impressive march through a morass of deceit and state-sponsored bullshit, whose central thesis is simply that most of Russian politics, as it was marketed both to the Russians and also to the western politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats who funded it through the 1990s, does not exist. Parties do not have members, policies, or constitutions, and do not represent real interest groups. Even when, like the Communist Party, they actually do exist, they are frequently not actually trying to win the elections-sensationally, Wilson quotes a senior Communist as being horrified how close the party came to unwanted victory in 1996.

Instead, parties, movements and politicians are usually prepared from whole cloth for specific political projects, and created in the public mind by a barrage of TV advertising for the mass and outrageous web propagandists for the elite. It is possible to buy an entire political party, tailored to one’s specifications, from $100,000.
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Oh, yes, Macedonia

They had Parliamentary elections last week. Nobody much noticed, but,

1) The voting was conducted in good order and — according to international observers — was, for the most part, fair and without irregularities;

2) The opposition won a fairly clear victory; and,

3) The government promptly acknowledged the opposition victory, and is handing over power forthwith.

This is no small thing in Macedonia, an ethnically divided country with a long and miserable history of political violence. A bit more below the fold.
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Changing Colors

The CDU in Baden-Wuerttemberg is conducting negotiations with the Greens in that state to decide if the two parties should form a coalition government. If they do, it will be the first “black-green” coalition at the state level, and another sign of fluidity in Germany’s post-reunification party politics.

Update: Maybe next time. The CDU and FDP will, according to reports today, continue the coalition that has run the southwest for the last 10 years. Germany changes slowly.
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Berlusconi’s followers

I wish I saw this great recap of the Prodi-Berlusoni debate earlier by European Tribune diarist ‘de Gondi’. But I found something better. This comment he made to the post deserves a larger audience.

I rarely meet someone who openly admits he/she sympathizes for Forza Italia. (For AN, yes.) Conversation doesn’t go too far because it bangs into “devotion” with a big starry-eyed “D.” The figure of Berlusconi is fundamental to the party. I don’t see it surviving him. It’s more a personal political entity with religious overtones. Either you believe or you don’t. Basically his electorate is reactionary, similar to followers of poujadisme or qualunquismo. The party appeals to primitive fears while idealizing the leader. Marketing is a strategic component of the party. Candidates and themes are created according to the logic of launching a product.

Many of the party’s functionaries or key figures come from the radical communist left. My impression is that he appeals to the “orphans of Stalin” type of personality.

Another component of his movement reflects party struggles in the eighties. At the time, Italy’s chronic state of being a limited democracy in the context of the Cold War gave enormous power to political parties and currents within the parties without any effective popular base. Italy was a partitocrazia in which citizens were at best clients when not subjects. This brought about diffused irresponsibility and massive corruption. (And Berlusconi was a major player at the time.) The power system became feudal in which the distinction between left and right, between Socialist and Democrat-Christian was purely nominal. With the collapse of the partitocrazia after the Cold War, three new forces coalesced: the modern left with the ex-communists as the major force, the minor democratic fascist party, MSI, which became AN, and the Lega Nord which represented a racist impulse for major territorial autonomy. There was a void where the old power structure had been. Forza Italia filled this void aggregating the minor conservative parties with the so-called Socialists into a winning coalition in 1994, only to fall apart within little more than a year.

At face value it seems strange that a political entity can house contrasting forces that range from the extreme rightwing to the mock-left Craxi orphans. If you look at it as a representation of Italian political collusion in the eighties manifested in the King’s body (le corps du Roi) it makes more sense. Rather than reverentially attend the good Lord on his chaisse percée, a good kick in the ass is called for.