As was expected, the elections have spelled the end of Koštunica. The beginning of his end was the decision, which dates to the failure of the talks presided over by Martti Ahtisaari, to wager everything on the card of conflict with the European Union. That the end did not come earlier may be put down to Tadić’s opportunism. But this opportunism also came to an end, primarily because the logic set off by the alleged discovery of Martti Ahtisaari’s perfidy ended with Tadić being charged with treason. The voters, at least a significant number of them, then took the opportunity to take matters back to the beginning.
The question is what kind of beginning, if any, we have here. Judging by the election results, extreme nationalism and populism have been rejected. The majority sees Serbia inside the European Union. In addition, it seems that the majority would also like to see the burden of the transition shared. It should be quite easy, therefore, to draft the new government’s programme: accelerated integration into the European Union, and greater concern for the social consequences of the reforms necessary to realise the aim of integration. What kind of coalition could make this happen?
The most natural coalition would be one between ideological social democrats, liberals, and the representatives of certain interest groups, because these all favour more or less unconditionally Serbia’s entry into the European Union. The ideological social democrats are not in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), but in the Democratic Party (DS). The liberals, on the other hand, include not only the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), but also at least in part G17 Plus, and in terms of acceptance of an open economy the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV). The Socialist Party itself, on the other hand, is merely a framework for interest groups that include the United Pensioners’ Party (PUPS) and One Serbia (JS), the party that runs [the town of] Jagodina. What ideology there remains in the Socialist Party does not belong to the European camp. Its advocacy of destabilisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, its rejection of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, and its continued endorsement of the policy conducted in the 1990s, have nothing in common with what the voters who should be represented by the new government chose in the elections. To these parties, we should also add those representing the minorities [Magyar, Bosniak, Albanian] – although which minorities will be acceptable to the ruling coalition will be of some significance.
So if we start with the voters’ preferences, the new government should be a coalition between ‘For a European Serbia’ [DS + G17 Plus + SPO], the Liberal-Democratic Party, the party (or parties) of the minorities, and the United Pensioners’ Party. Such a coalition is unlikely, however, for the simple reason that the Socialist Party comes cheaper than the Liberal- Democratic Party. The pensioners will have to be satisfied at all events, while the Socialists’ other demands or principles, as they like to call them, are not very different from those that prevail in the Democratic Party.
It is a different case with the Liberal-Democratic Party. The Kosovo issue is here of the least importance. If the Democratic Party wishes still to base its foreign policy after these elections on confrontation rather than on normalisation of relations with Kosovo, then this is in the last instance its own problem. It is also the problem for the Serbs in northern Kosovo, who voted in the main for the Radicals, having misjudged not only the theme of the election but also the likely winner. One of the Democratic Party’s tasks will be to stabilise northern Kosovo. The Liberal-Democratic Party could help it here, but it cannot place Kosovo at the centre of its political concerns in the event that the Democratic Party decides not to change its Kosovo policy.
The Liberal-Democratic Party is a costly coalition partner also because it would demand faster and more radical reforms, which would be acceptable for G17 Plus but which would also affect the balance of forces within the ‘For a European Serbia’ coalition and, of course, also within the governmental coalition. The LDP would in addition seek to change the attitude to the monopolies, and to some of the agreed or planned economic deals, especially the one with Gasprom. It would also demand a change of attitude to corruption, and more generally to the politicisation of public services and firms. It could find allies within the Democratic Party for this last, but when it comes to the monopolies or the Russian business the prospects are small.
For these reasons a new cohabitation is the most likely outcome, this time with the party of the late Slobodan Milošević (and the late Arkan). One should not underestimate the symbolic meaning of this, but a far more important consequence would be that it would preserve the existing system of control, albeit in a weakened form. The assembly majority, in other words, will be constituted by the SPS, the DSS-NS and the SRS. What would be the likely consequences of this?
The advantage to the Democratic Party of a coalition with the Socialist Party would be that such a coalition would pose no ideological or interest dilemmas. The price of this coalition, in addition, may appear small, since the Socialists won relatively few votes, and some of those they owe to their allied parties. This will force the Socialist Party to behave like the DSS did in the previous government, seeking support from the opposition parties in parliament.
The situation is somewhat different now, because the opposition will be weak, at least at first. This is attested to by the fact that it cannot transform its parliamentary majority into a ruling majority. But the opposition parties’ true influence will depend also on whether and how they adapt to the new situation. Following this election, the Democratic Party of Serbia could preserve its political potential only by forming a government with the Radical Party – if not right now, then later. For that, however, they need the Socialist Party, but it is not clear whether the latter could enter such a coalition. To do so would not be popular with the Pensioners’ Party or the Jagodina voters. If such a coalition proves impossible, not so much on the occasion of the formation of a government but during the subsequent political negotiations, then DSS has no future. New Serbia [NS, now allied to the DSS] is more adaptable, but it remains to be seen what forms its adaptation will take.
Finally, the Radical Party has grown to unexpected dimensions primarily as a party of protest, as a ‘vote for nothing’. This party too has no future. In order to survive it would have to change its leadership, identify the interests it represents and come up with a programme to realise them. These two aspects are inter-related, because its current leadership is not capable of change, and there is no alternative leadership in sight. It will be kept going by the Democratic Party’s tardiness in solving inherited problems such as Kosovo; but if the incoming government succeeds in staying on for its whole term, then it is unlikely that the SRS would get more than ten per cent or so of the votes at the next election.
So it will be extremely important for the opposition parties to keep attention focused upon those themes which the Socialist Party will try to impose on the government. At this moment, the ideological and political closeness between the Democratic and Socialist parties suggests that these are likely to be national and social themes, and this might allow the opposition to consolidate and try to gain control of parliament. One must bear in mind here, in particular, that the Socialist Party is particularly close to the Democratic Party of Serbia which is in turn very close to the SRS. How this inter-party intimacy manifests itself, and in which political forms, will become clear when it comes to the questions that are bound to test the relation of forces.
It is not clear, therefore, what sort of beginning we have here. To see why, it is enough to ask the question: Why doesn’t the Democratic Party offer a place in government to both the Socialists and the Liberal Democrats? If the Socialist Party were to prove more inclined to enter into a coalition with the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Radical Party than into a coalition with the Democratic Party, if this entailed alliance also with the Liberal Democrats, then the actual ideological and political disposition of Serbia becomes clear. If one adds to this that the Democratic Party is closer to the Socialist Party than to the Liberal Democrats, then it becomes manifest that what awaits Serbia is yet another period of political disarray.
Translated by Bosnian Institute