The Serbian General Elections: Sophies Choice

A023519228.jpgSerbia goes to the poll on 21st January. Since October when a new Constitution was adopted by referenda the county goes through an everlasting electoral fever, which, without any wonder, causes an electoral fatigue amongst the population. However, this is the elections of the year. What will Serbia choose: Europe or Kosovo? Ten days to the elections and here is a brief panorama of the political situation in this strategically most important country of the Balkans… 

Serbian Federal Parliament  

The electoral campaigns in Serbia are all marked with a serious lack of new political ideas. Besides two-and-a-half-month long campaigns and these during the period of Orthodox Christmas are too heavy and boring for any people to bear. It is known that the Serbs are now tired of their politicians’ endless Kosovo tirades. And as to the Serbian youth, they stand particularly aloof of politics. The turn-out is then expected to be lower than the previous general elections that took place on 28th December 2003 (58.7 percent).
The Serbian Parliament has 250 seats. The MPs are elected for 4-year term.

The big three: SRS, DS, DSS

– Recent public polls unanimously predict the overwhelming victory of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), with 32 percent of the votes. SRS’s leader, Vojislav Seselj, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in ex-Yugoslavia, is currently on trial in The Hague. However, he is on the top of his party’s electoral list. Party’s interim president is Tomislav Nikolic. SRS’s campaigns all base on the Kosovo problem. Radicals are against Serbia’s integration into NATO (the organisation that bombed Serbia during the war in Kosovo) and the EU. SRS has currently 82 seats in Parliament.
– SRS is followed (not very closely though) by the Democrat Party (DS), which is expected to obtain 28 percent of the votes at the highest. DS’s chairman is the current President Boris Tadic. DS, whose slogan is “For a better life”, base its campaign on the economic problems and the EU integration. Although DS often claims Serbia’s legal right upon Kosovo, it seems that the party would make concessions and eventually privilege Serbia’s integration into the EU to the keep of sovereignty over Kosovo. DS has currently 37 seats in Parliament.
– Finally the third best is the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) in coalition with numerous minor parties, with 22 percent of the votes maximum. DSS’ chairman is the current Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. DSS, whose slogan is “Long live Serbia”, can be described as both a democratic and a moderate nationalist party. In his campaign, Prime Minister Kostunica puts forward the adoption of the new Constitution as his greatest achievement, which was a big step forward indeed. Otherwise, on the economic issues and especially Kosovo, DSS seems not to have been very successful. The unemployment rate is as high as 25 percent and Kosovo is near to independence more than ever (even if this is an outcome that not even SRS could have probably prevented). DSS has currently 53 seats in Parliament.
DS and DSS are historically archrivals. Although every expert predict a coalition between these two main pro-Western parties of Serbia, for the time being there is no consensus between the two. The main apple of contention is the prime minister office. Kostunica’s condition for the formation of a coalition with DSS is to keep the premier office in the new government. However, DS claims that this office comes to a member of the party, which obtains the majority of the votes at the elections (which is very logical indeed).
Boris Tadic recently announced that he would not run for the premiership at these elections. Possible PM candidates of DS are not unveiled for the moment.
Another critical issue is Kosovo of course. Recently, Kostunica, hinting at DS, stated that “the problems of Kosovo will not be solved by saying ‘It is important to have the support of the international community, even if we lose Kosovo’”. It is obvious that (though a bit pathetically) DSS is trying to win over some SRS’ supporters. However, this will probably not work.
Both DS and DSS declared that they would never enter into coalition with SRS. Not that latter would anyway. Serbia is lucky that SRS and the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) of the late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic are archrivals.

Minor parties: SPS, G 17 Plus, LDP

There are three parties that are more or less expected to pass the 5 percent threshold at these elections:
– In recent polls, the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) has 4.97 percent of the votes. Since December, SPS has a new chairman, Ivica Dacic. While the party is against Serbia’s integration into NATO, it is for the integration into the EU.
G 17 Plus, member of the current coalition government, announced that it would run alone at these elections. As a party of liberal technocrats, G 17 Plus’ campaigns base on economic problems and the EU integration. The party’s slogan is “Everything depends on us”. In recent polls, the party has 4.7 percent of the votes.
– Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), currently not represented in Parliament, is the unique Serbian party, which supports the independence of Kosovo. In recent polls, LDP has 4.5 percent of the votes. Consequently, it is expected that below the threshold the main battle would be between LDP and G 17 Plus.
These parties are crucial for the formation of a coalition after the elections. The most probable coalition scenario being that of DS and DSS, these two parties will need in any case the support of a third one in order to have a stable majority in Parliament vis-à-vis the Radicals.

The big surprise: Albanian Coalition of the Presevo Valley

It is definitely the surprise of the year: after a ten-year boycott, the Albanian parties decided to come back to the Serbian political scene and to back the two main pro-Western Serbian parties.
Without Kosovo, Serbia has still 70.000 Albanians on her soil. Therefore, this comeback is very significant.
For the elections, three main Albanian parties formed the Albanian Coalition of the Presevo Valley. Those parties are:
– Party for Democratic Action (PDD) led by Riza Halimi;
– Movement for Democratic Progress (PDP) led by Jonuz Musliu;
– Democratic Union of the Valley (DUD) led by Skender Destani.
Only one party decided to keep up with the boycott, namely the Albanian Party (DPA-PDSh) of Ragmi Mustafa.
The platform of these parties is quite similar: insertion of the Albanian language in education, the preservation of the Albanian identity and greater decentralisation. Given the critical situation in Kosovo and the geographical proximity of the Presevo Valley to that region, this step would be the beginning of the reconciliation between the Albanian minority and Serbia proper.

Once again the timing question

On 5th January, Boris Tadic demanded the postponement of Kosovo’s status until after a new government is formed. This demand is rejected by the spokesman of Martti Ahtisaari, the UN representative and mediator for Kosovo, Remi Durlot, who stated that the former is to present his proposal for Kosovo to the UN Security Council immediately after the elections.
In fact, this would nullify any good impact aroused by the decision of postponement in the first place. Given the polls, the bargain period after the elections will be a long and thorny one. It is more than probable that Ahtisaari’s proposal will back Kosovo’s independence. In this case, there are some analysts who even fear that Kostunica’s DSS enter into coalition with SRS.
Since the postponement, Serbia lives in an atmosphere of self-deception as long as Kosovo is concerned. Any proposal before a government is formed would be premature and counter-productive, both for Serbia and Kosovo.
Serbia is in a position of “Sophie’s choice”: either she will cede Kosovo for the sake of Europe, or her European perspective for the sake of Kosovo. It is now up to the people, and then to the political negotiations to decide which “child” to forsake. 

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