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Yugoslavia: Sundry Issues At Stake In Fall Elections

Several important elections are due to be held in the western Balkans in the next 10 weeks. RFE/RL's Newsline analyst Patrick Moore provides an overview of their significance.

Prague, 1 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- No fewer than six sets of elections will take place in the western Balkans between September 10 and November 11. The stakes are potentially high in all of them.

The first country to go to the polls is Macedonia, on September 10. Voting is for local offices, but the significance goes beyond that. This is the first such poll since national elections in the fall of 1998 and since the Kosovo crisis and presidential election of 1999.

Feuding within the governing coalition, and its failure to significantly raise the living standard, are likely to mean votes for the opposition Social Democrats. They are the former communists who ran the country until late 1998. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has said that he might be willing to hold early national elections in October if his pro-business Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) loses more than 10 percent in the local vote. The next national elections are scheduled for 2002.

Most international attention has been focused on the September 24 Serbian local elections and the federal Yugoslav parliamentary and presidential votes the same day. At stake is the political future of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his machine.

Serbian public opinion polls are often unreliable and show a large percentage of undecided voters. But there is general agreement in the surveys that the combined opposition could possibly unseat the dictator and turn a new page in Serbian history.

The problem is that the opposition is anything but united. The Montenegrin leadership regards the laws under which the ballot will be held as illegal and unconstitutional. The Podgorica leaders and their supporters consequently refuse to participate in the vote, as the Kosovar Albanians have done for many years.

For its part, the Serbian opposition is split between a joint slate of most of the parties on the one hand, and Vuk Draskovic's backers on the other. The four leading presidential candidates --including Milosevic-- all offer a tweedledum-tweedledee mantra of nationalism and anti-Western rhetoric. They differ chiefly in the nature of the social and political forces behind them, as well as in their stated attitudes toward Serbia's leadership of the past 13 years.

The third set of elections are local ones in Albania, slated for October 1. It is unwise to read too much national significance into local elections in any country, but this ballot is widely regarded as a mid-term plebiscite on the governing Socialists. The opposition Democrats' defeat in the last general elections in 1997 was so great that they have virtually nowhere to go but up. But their pre-election objections to the formation of the Central Election Commission and on the role of the OSCE {Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] suggest that they might try to deny the validity of the vote if it goes too strongly against them.

Smaller parties both inside and outside the governing coalition will be jockeying for local support. But Albanian politics remain heavily polarized between the Democrats and the Socialists.

Slovenians go to the polls on October 15 to elect a parliament, which is the center of power in that country's political system. There is a general consensus throughout the country that its future lies in integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Moves toward European Union and NATO membership are therefore likely to proceed apace regardless of who wins.

The term "win," however, may be relative. The next government is likely to be yet another shaky coalition with a narrow majority, which reflects the fragmented nature of Slovenia's political spectrum. For more than a century, Slovenian politics have been divided into Liberal, Roman Catholic, and leftist currents, often with more than one party for each. In addition, a small nationalist Right is also present in post-independence Slovenia, and it could play a pivotal role in the formation of coalitions.

Since this summer, the Slovenian government has been headed by Andrej Bajuk, the first national leader since independence in 1991 who did not come from the communist-era nomenklatura. Until recently, he was an international banker with an Argentine passport. Slovene voters will decide on October 15 whether they want to keep the familiar names and faces of the 1980s and '90s, or whether they feel it is time for new people.

Perhaps the biggest wild card in the upcoming elections is the Kosovo local vote slated for October 28. Few Kosovar Serbs have registered, so the elections are likely to be an all-Albanian affair, with some involvement by Turks and other minorities.

There are three central questions overshadowing the Kosovo vote. First, will the recent political and ethnic violence continue and even lead to a disruption of the balloting? Second, will the outcome of the elections be more conducive to general political cohesion throughout the province, or will it encourage trends toward rule by local warlords? And third, what will the balance be between the moderate, urban-based Democratic League of Kosovo of Ibrahim Rugova, on the one hand, and the more rural-based parties that grew out of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, on the other?

Last, but certainly not least, are the parliamentary elections in both entities in Bosnia on November 11. The international community is hoping that the voters will weaken the respective positions of the three nationalist parties that have held sway for most of the past decade.

Municipal elections in Bosnia earlier this year indicated that such trends are most pronounced among the Muslims, who may be drifting in ever greater numbers toward the Social Democrats. In addition, the powerful nationalist leader, Alija Izetbegovic, is leaving the joint presidency, which could make for further fragmentation among the Muslim elite.

The Bosnian Croats, too, have no lack of parties from which to choose. The new government in Zagreb says it will not be helping the nationalists, but it is not clear if the changes in Zagreb earlier this year will translate into changes in Bosnia or especially in Herzegovina in the fall.

The situation among the Bosnian Serbs seems less promising. Nationalists of various hues seem well entrenched, Milosevic appears poised to cause any mischief he can, and the moderates and minorities rely on the support of and active intervention by the international community.