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Serbia: Parliamentary Election Sets Back Anti-Milosevic Reformists

  • Ron Synovitz

A strong electoral turnout for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) has raised concerns about whether the next government in Belgrade will have the political will to push through reforms needed to bolster ties with the European Union and NATO. RFE/RL examines the results of the 28 December general election and expectations about talks on a governing coalition.

Prague, 29 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday's general election in Serbia is widely seen as a setback for the politicians who toppled Slobodan Milosevic from the Yugoslav presidency in 2000.

Preliminary results announced by the Serbian Election Commission early today show that the pro-Milosevic ultranationalists in the SRS will become the largest group in the 250-seat parliament.

The ultranationalists won as many as 82 seats -- despite the fact that party head and former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj is awaiting trail in The Hague on charges of war crimes.

At the Belgrade headquarters of the SRS, it was acting President Tomislav Nikolic who opened a celebratory bottle of champagne and made a victory toast. Nikolic attributed the strong turnout for his party to what he described as poor governance by the outgoing cabinet of the former Democratic Opposition of Serbia.

"I was calm even before the elections," Nikolic said. "That [election victory] was meant to happen because the Democratic Opposition of Serbia governed badly. A dream of every politician is to win the elections. That brings certain responsibilities. But I'm prepared, together with the [Serbian] Radical Party, to take over that responsibility."

Nevertheless, it appears unlikely that the SRS and its traditional allies in Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia will be able to form a majority coalition with another party. The combined parliamentary seats won by the SRS and the Socialists is about 103 seats -- or 23 seats short of an absolute majority.

On paper, Milosevic's backers could form a majority coalition by joining with the Serbian Renewal Movement and the New Serbia Coalition -- a grouping of moderate nationalists led by former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic that won 23 parliamentary seats.

But political analysts say such a parliamentary coalition is unlikely because of the strong personal differences between Draskovic and SRS leader Seselj that date back to the Milosevic era.

When asked yesterday whether he would consider an alliance with Seselj, Draskovic told reporters that the political platforms of the two groups are too different at the moment.

Aleksandar Vucic, the secretary-general of the Serbian Radical Party, says the ultranationalists have not yet approached another party with a proposal on forming a governing coalition.

"We haven't asked anyone about [forming a coalition in order to form the government] because we are the post powerful political party right now in Serbia and we are going to offer our political program, our economic program. And we are going to see if there are any political parties [who will] accept that," Vucic said.

On the other end of the political spectrum are the divided anti-Milosevic reformists. The reformists are the politicians most likely to push forward with changes needed for closer ties with the European Union and NATO.

Political analyst Liljana Bacivic told RFE/RL that it will not be enough for those reformists to patch up the differences between their three parliamentary groups.

Bacivic, who heads the public research department at the Belgrade-based Institute for Social Science, noted that even a unified reformist movement would control only 124 parliamentary seats -- 52 seats for former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia; 38 seats for Boris Tadic's Democratic Party; and 34 seats for the so-called G-17 Plus of Miroljub Labus.

That means that a reunified reformist movement also would need support from Draskovic's bloc either to form a majority coalition or to rule as a minority government.

Boris Tadic, deputy president of the Democratic Party, told RFE/RL today that his group is prepared for all options. But he said the Democratic Party would only join a governing coalition under "strict conditions."

"It's quite obvious that any democratic government is not possible without the Democratic Party. We are not intending to go into the next government at any cost. All options are open. One option is that the Democratic Party could enter the next government, but under very strict conditions. The second option is to stay in the opposition. And the third option is to support a minority government -- but again, under very strict conditions," Tadic said.

During the election campaign, Democratic Party of Serbia leader Kostunica ruled out the idea of a coalition with the ultranationalists and Socialists, as well as with his former allies in the shattered Democratic Opposition of Serbia.

Early today, Kostunica told RFE/RL that he still rejects the idea of a coalition with Milosevic's supporters. But Kostunica left open the possibility of a coalition with other reformists.

Kostunica also suggested that international pressure on Belgrade for the extradition of indicted war crimes suspects to The Hague had helped win votes for the SRS.

"The success of the Serbian Radical Party was provided by the politics of the incumbent government, as well as by the politics from abroad toward Serbia," Kostunica said.

Political observers in Belgrade also say there could be long-term political fallout from the failure of a coalition for ethnic minorities to cross the 5 percent threshold needed for parliamentary representation. The Coalition Together for Tolerance -- a coalition of national minorities and regional parties -- garnered just 4.4 percent of yesterday's vote.

The group represents Hungarian, Croatian, and Muslim voters. Many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and southeastern Serbia boycotted yesterday's ballot.
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