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Yugoslavia: Serbia's Unusual Government Faces Two Tough Tasks

Serbia's newly approved interim government has nine weeks in office before parliamentary elections on December 23. RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz examines the unusual structure of this power-sharing government and the tasks it faces during its short existence.

Prague, 26 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The interim government of Serbia faces two main tasks before parliamentary elections in two months. One is to stabilize the economy to help ordinary Serbs cope with the coming winter. The other task is to ensure that the election campaign and balloting are conducted in a free and fair manner.

The interim government is different from previous Serbian governments -- and different from almost any other government around the world -- in that it is not the result of any coalition within parliament. In fact, the Serb parliament was dissolved yesterday after it formally approved the date for the early elections.

Instead, the government that will run Serbia for the next nine weeks is based on a power-sharing agreement between former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and the two main anti-Milosevic forces. These include the Democratic Opposition of Serbia -- or DOS-- a coalition of 18 groups that supports new President Vojislav Kostunica, and the Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic.

The government's unusual structure includes three ministers in each of the four power ministries: interior, finance, information, and justice.

Under the agreement, the Socialist Party retained the post of prime minister. That job was filled by the relatively moderate Milomir Minic, who was formerly a chairman of the Yugoslav federal parliament.

But the agreement includes a clause to balance Minic's powers. It stipulates the prime minister cannot make any decisions without the accord of his two deputy prime ministers -- and both are opponents of Milosevic. They are the DOS' Nebojsa Covic and Spasoje Krunic of the Serbian Renewal Movement.

Minic told parliament after being sworn into office that the Socialists agreed to the power-sharing government because they believed it was the only way to preserve peace and security following the popular uprising that ousted Milosevic earlier this month:

"Violence and danger have taken over Serbia so that, in the situation today, it is an illusion to think things will solve themselves. In such a situation -- when the government and the security forces are not in a position to clearly preserve the peace, the respected constitution and the laws -- the only means to clearly preserve the peace in the country are political means."

But Covic, the deputy prime minister from DOS, says he has no intention letting political compromises delay efforts to stabilize the deteriorating economic conditions in Serbia.

"I am convinced that we will be able to deal with these problems that are left over from the past -- the financial side of the state, which has been disturbed from all possible sides. In this matter, I don't have any intention of making a compromise, regardless of whom or how in the political sense, this subject will be worked on."

With the exception of the jointly controlled Finance Ministry, most of Serbia's economic ministries will be headed by Socialists. They include the ministries of agriculture, trade, and ownership transformation.

The Serbian Renewal Movement will head the industry ministry, while a DOS member is leading the ministry for international economic relations.

The most critical economic task facing the interim government is to stabilize prices.

For years, the Milosevic regime manipulated monetary policy in a way that artificially boosted the official value of the Yugoslav dinar. But since the ouster of Milosevic, monetary policy has been loosened in an attempt to bring the official exchange rate in line with the dinar's actual value on Belgrade's black market exchanges.

The result has aggravated inflation -- which, according to Britain's Economist Intelligence Unit, was already expected to reach an annual rate of 90 percent before the ousting of Milosevic. More critically for normal Serbs, the prices of basic foods such as bread and vegetables have been soaring.

The other vital economic goal of the interim government is to ensure a continuous supply of natural gas and electrical power through the winter.

The Russian firm Gazeksport suspended deliveries of natural gas to Yugoslavia in June because of the inability of Milosevic's regime to pay off its mounting debts.

Newly elected Yugoslav president Kostunica is traveling to Moscow tomorrow, and will attempt to get Russia to restart gas deliveries. Kostunica says he is confident he can convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to do so. Aid promised from the European Union also is expected to help.

Control of the state broadcasting media is the central issue in regard to free and fair elections. According to the power-sharing agreement, the three information ministers will work together to create a steering committee to run state-owned Radio and Television Serbia. That committee is to be composed of officials from all three competing political groups.