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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional... > Helsinki Charter No. 165-166 > Text



Post-election Serbia


By Vladimir Gligorov

Some strategy was developed four years ago – European Union and more welfare. Elections were won on the former, while a coalition was formed on the later. Besides, ideologically speaking, the strategy was attractive to people: social justice was on the agenda and financial burden seemed less heavy as economic expectations were high. Then two years in the movement towards EU were wasted on a futile Kosovo policy, and another four on incompetent management of with financial crisis. Incompetent because the government was preoccupied with insolvent companies rather than with high unemployment rate. So both European integration and social justice became a dead letter. And the biggest party of the ruling coalition – that lost parliamentary and presidential elections – was called to account.

Now, four years later, the new ruling coalition has no strategy at all. Its biggest party, Serb Progressive Party, had hoped to win the election more convincingly reasoning that the electorate would punish Democratic Party more severely than it actually did. Actually, Democratic Party’s electoral strategy for prompting those dissatisfied to cast ballot for Socialists and Liberal Democratic Party turned successful – except for the fact that Socialists scored better than expected and sided with the winners whose offer was more attractive. Consequently, the new government begun ruling unaware of what exactly won it the majority vote and without a program to offer to the electorate.

Besides, division of offices does not suit the biggest party. Solutions found are rather weird. So it happened that the Premier kept his office of the Police Minister, probably aware that he could never act as a true prime minister but could as a police one. Then the first Vice-Premier – who should have actually been the Premier – took over the security sector not only in his capacity as the Minister of Defense but also as the head of all security services. This raises the question about actual authority of the Police Minister. Finally, the sector of finances and economy was given to the least important party in the coalition – the only exception being the Central Bank taken over by Progressists. This means not that neither the Premier nor the first Vice-Premier have no economic program and are unwilling to take over the responsibility for all economic and social failures. After all and to all appearances, the President of the Republic will be in charge of foreign policy. He had already announced a new plan for Kosovo and a parliamentary consent for it. Given that the foreign policy boils down to the policy for Kosovo one could hardly expect any foreign policy at all. At first, entrusting Milorad Dodik with regional policy was an impending danger. The issue has been put aside for the time being. The policy for European accession is in the competence of the Vice-Premier and the Head of the Office for European Integrations. This policy, however, has small influence on governmental agenda and, anyway, depends on the Kosovo policy on which it has no influence at all. All in all, besides having no strategy or program at all, the government has distributed competences in such manner that hardly anything could be accomplished.

Judging by all, the Progressists decided that the circumstances called for revolutionary measures for which one needed revolutionary excuses. First measure in the series was the deposal of the Governor of the Central Bank. At the very least, the law amended for the purpose undermines transparent functioning of the Central Bank – and not only because it makes it less independent but also because it blurs the methods of monetary policy. When it comes to the Central Bank what matters is not only the way it, say, adjusts referential exchange rate or the mandatory reserves, but also the manner in which it communicates with the public – that is, the messages about its goals and plans it puts across. Speaking of the later, statements given to “explain” the Governor’s deposal and the accompanying amendment only fueled uncertainties about what is to be expected from the new leadership of the country.

This did not put an end to arrogation of power. Except for the provincial government in Vojvodina where Democratic Party can comfortably rule by itself, there is the tendency for installing coalitions without Democratic Party at all other levels of government. The goal is not only to exclude Democratic Party from wherever possible but also to blacklist it – to proclaim it as responsible as to turn it into not only illegitimate opposition but also an illegitimate political alternative. This, in turn, tests Socialist Party and Unified Regions as coalition partners. They are turncoats and their loyalty is additionally tested by demands for breaking up coalitions with Democrats at local level and form local self-government with Progressists wherever possible. In this context, the present coalition of Socialist and Democrats in Belgrade will be the ultimate test of the new regime’s revolutionariness.

But Progessists’ statements about their political goals and accusations against Democrats clearly indicate that their revolutionary motives are on the rise. For instance, Progressists would not have been satisfied with the Central Bank Governor’s resignation following the amendment of the relevant law: they were after criminalizing the entire management of the Bank by accusing it for bankruptcy of Agrobanka and other problems in the banking. Similar accusations are made against everyone connected with Democrats in any way, and Democratic Party itself is accused of general corruption and pervading crime. This, on the other hand, should produce disciplinary effect on Democrats’ former allies now in coalition with Progressists. So the overall arrogation of power is more and more justified by struggle against corruption, rather than by the principles of democratic change.

Moreover, whenever local self-governments turn to be hard nuts to crack, Progressists argue despotism. So, they say, persistence of the coalition formed by Democrats in Novi Sad would be contrary to people’s interests and would stand in the way of their better and prosperous life. For the time being this rhetoric is not applied to Belgrade: it might harm Progressists, but Socialists as well as it would put them to test once again. So it is not clear how to make revolutionary changes without changing the regime in Belgrade. This raises two political questions.

First, is the ruling coalition stable or could all the parties in the present coalition count on better ratings and, consequently, more influence on the government? Suppose early elections are called this autumn. How would these parties score? This depends on whether or not citizens would vote differently for the parties in the ruling coalition and whether or not the coalition as a whole would obtain more votes. The later would depend on the timing of early elections. Should they be called relatively soon – this autumn or in the spring of 2013 – the ruling coalition would probably score better the more so since Democrats have not consolidated their ranks yet – and will not in the short run. The outcome would be more uncertain in the event of midterm elections. People’s expectations might not be fulfilled and some of those disappointed could easily opt again for Democrats, consolidated by then. About the same electoral outcome – number of votes given to the ruling coalition and to the opposition – would be nothing unusual: citizens’ memories of the rule of Democrats and their allies would be still fresh.

A possible redistribution of citizens’ votes among coalition parties is by far more important in this regard. Democrats had expected to obtain the same electoral result by taking upon themselves the responsibility for failures but blaming at the same time G17 Plus (United Regions in the meantime). Along with another presidential term expected for Tadic, their rule would have been secured.

Such strategy could be attractive to Progressists in four years from now should their government produce bad or at least unconvincing results. But in early elections – especially if called relatively soon – some Socialists could easily vote for Democrats, and others side with them forever. The later is even more probably when it comes to followers of United Regions. All in all, early elections would considerably strengthen Progressists and lead to redistribution of offices within the coalition.

If so, what are long-term prospects of the parties in the ruling coalition? The answer is quite simple when it comes to United Regions. They are nothing but an incarnation of the once G17 Plus. Their survival depends on their ability to transform themselves from one election to another. As it seems they have come to the end of the road now: disappearance of United Regions would marginalize G17 Plus, though other turns of events are not to be ruled out. Be it as it may, they could not survive stabilization of the political arena – and stabilization would become a reality should Serbia stick to democratic elections.

Speaking of Socialist, one could hardly expect them to score much better among the electorate. Political goals of their coalition partners are rather limited and, consequently, limited is their durability. Pensioners’ Party cannot remain a constant in democracy, meaning that Socialists cannot rely on pensioners’ votes in the future. The future of United Serbia is uncertain but the party needs not side with one coalition partner forever. United Serbia is actually a lobby group, like Pensioners’ Party, and realizes its interests in various coalitions. Some Progressists’ and Radicals’ voters could opt for Socialists – but in that case the party would have to shift further towards the rights and thus loose its leftist voters. From this angle, would score relatively bad in the early elections should Democrats consolidate their ranks.

Progressists’ prospects are not as stable as those of Democrats. Regardless of the problems Democrats are presently faced with – which is nothing unusual for a party that lost elections – it is hard to imagine that the political scene could do without it: not only because of its merits in the country’s democratization but also because it is the only party capable of solving some longstanding problems facing Serbia in a democratic manner. This is not only about the party’s proximity to European values and institutions, underestimated by the present leadership, but also about its democratic attitude towards autonomy of Vojvodina and national, cross-border problems that had also been neglected in the past four-five years. On the other hand, Socialists tend toward nationalism, the same as Progressists and Radicals. Progressists’ long-term strategy for European integrations, constitutional order and neighborly relations is hard to discern. Presently the statements they are giving are democratic. The time will show whether democracy is their long-term option.

In any case, should Democrats restore their character and should Progressists turn into a modern conservative party there would still be room enough for Liberals and nationalists at the political arena. To find room for themselves, “strengthened” Socialists would have to push out Democrats, which is hardly possible.

This is how things would stand should Serbia maintain the process of democratic decision-making. But this is not to be taken for sure considering revolutionary plans and steps by Progressists and because they will do their utmost to consolidate their power in the absence of any program or strategy. The fact that they came to power could turn into the strategy for maintaining the power quite soon. And this could lead to political decisions that would, like in 1990s, permanently change the strategy the former governments have built for past ten-odd years and implemented inconsequently and half-heartedly. Neither the initial moves by the new regime nor the enormous problem-solving gap bode well.



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