30 May 2002, Volume
DOES SERBIA NEED EARLY ELECTIONS?
A broadcast on 28 April of Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Goran Vesic, a member of the executive committee of the Democratic Party (DS) of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and Dragan Jocic, a member of the presidency of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.
Serbian politics has been battered by constant quarrels and conflicts between the parties that overthrew the Milosevic regime and won the elections in September and December 2000. Are early elections the only way out of the present crisis?
I do not think that the only reason for early elections is the political crisis, although they certainly could become necessary if the government loses majority support in the Serbian parliament.
One reason why the Democratic Party of Serbia wants early elections is a matter of principle, since, as a member of the [governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition], DOS, we agreed that elections would take place two years [after the vote that ultimately ousted Milosevic]. This would promote the stability necessary for implementing serious reforms.
A second reason is that we think that elections will bring clarity to the political landscape by removing all but the strongest parties from the scene.
To hold elections now would threaten the process of reforms in Serbia as well as the arrival of foreign investments. Foreign investors would cancel their projects and wait for the results of the elections to see whether it pays to invest in our country.
Moreover, there is no need for early elections as long as the Serbian government has majority support in the parliament. Elections can be called only if a no-confidence motion is accepted. That would be the simplest way to have early elections....
As far as this much-vaunted promise of early elections is concerned, it was made during the September 2000 campaign for the federal elections [only]. Early elections in a year and a half or two years were mentioned. There was no similar promise in the DOS program for the December 2000 electoral campaign.
If you agree, let us first clarify the question of the promise. Mr. Vesic claims that the promise of early elections was made only for the federal elections, and not for the elections in Serbia. As far as I know, Mr. Jocic, officials of your party claim that the promise was made for the elections in Serbia, too.
When we promised new elections in two years' time, our goal was to create a space in which to set up truly professional state institutions, such as the administration, diplomatic service, army, and internal security services, which would not be subordinated to the political parties.
This is why [relatively] frequent elections are needed. The most important ones are the elections for the Serbian parliament, which will contribute the most to stabilizing the political situation. The idea of a two-year term thus also applies to the general elections in Serbia.
The promise given by the DOS before the federal elections in September 2000 was made for those elections only. But I do not think that Mr. Jocic and I should discuss this right now. After all, this is not an issue between us. The promise has been repeatedly mentioned by the opposition parties, such as the Radicals (SRS) and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO).
Sorry, but the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) keeps mentioning the promise, too. Mr. Dejan Mihajlov, the head of the DSS faction in the Serbian parliament, has recently spoken about it.
I cannot not say whether it is Mr. Mihajlov's position or that of his party. I do not find it a very important issue in this moment.
The most important point is that early elections at this juncture would slow the pace of reform, although the Democratic Party of Serbia disagrees. This is what the economic experts say. As I previously told you, investments will not arrive in a country in transition during an electoral campaign. Serbia will not be an exception to the rule.
Mr. Jocic, one official of the Democratic Party recently told you that you do not need early elections to come to power. All it would take is for the DSS to form a coalition with the Socialist Party of Serbia [SPS -- the party of former President Slobodan Milosevic]. What do you say to that?
I do not consider that a serious statement. I have already explained why we insist on early elections. The statement you just mentioned was made for political purposes, and one should not take it seriously.
The Socialist Party of Serbia is our political opponent. That party is near dissolution and therefore cannot be anybody's political partner. Our political partners are the strongest ruling parties in Serbia. However, I find it overoptimistic to think that a government elected in the first democratic elections might stay in office for four years. Even now, less than two years after the elections, there are differences within the ruling coalition made up of 18 parties.
Some are abandoning the DOS program. For instance, there are parties -- such as the Christian Democratic Party (DHSS) or New Serbia (NS) -- whose main goal is to remain in power as long as possible, and they therefore fear the next elections.
Unlike some of my colleagues [in the DSS], I do not claim that the Democratic Party is afraid of elections. However, it seems to me that other, smaller parties are -- and Mr. Djindjic's government relies on them [for its legislative majority]. That is the main problem. This is why I think that early elections would tidy up the political stage and promote the reform process.
Mr. Vesic, is the Democratic Party afraid of elections? Some claim that your party actually opposes early elections in order to stay in power at any cost.
The Democratic Party has courageously taken part in elections all these years. We shall see who is afraid of the elections once they take place.
However, I would like to turn to what Mr. Jocic just said about the small parties. When we were creating the DOS, we wanted to include everybody important to us in order to beat Mr. Milosevic. We fought for every single party -- both big ones and small ones, both regional ones and those that had members all over Serbia.
They were all important to us to win.... Now, [some would have us shun them] when the time comes to share power. I do not think this is fair.
It is not normal that a government consists of 18 parties. I do not want to discuss whether it is fair or unfair.
There is something called legitimacy in a parliament and in politics. The question is whether a deputy should come from a party that enjoys no popular legitimacy. None of those small parties won its parliamentary seat[s] by attracting a minimum number of voters, but because there was a need for a big coalition that would attract all [possible] voters and make a break with the previous regime.
The fact is, however, that the parliament often barely functions. It is constantly on the verge of not having a quorum. Some political parties have [in effect] detached themselves [from the coalition] by taking their own positions. [Editor's note: it is the DSS, however, that is the biggest problem for the unity of DOS in this respect. See "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 May 2002.]
For instance, there is the case of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia. They voted against the agreement on the redefinition of relations between Serbia and Montenegro. They thus flagrantly deviated from the DOS position, which favors the preservation of the federal state.
Next time, another small party will do the same. This is why elections would help promote stability by tidying up the political landscape. And the most important task now is to promote stability.