AIM: start

SUN, 07 APR 2002 12:12:06 GMT

Serbia in the Election Year

Who Will be President

The only thing that is still preventing main protagonists on Serbia's political scene to make the necessity of early parliamentary elections public are calculations about possible losses. Everything else will be a gain

AIM Belgrade, April 1, 2002

The March agreement on the union that will in the next three years be called Serbia and Montenegro, signed under unconcealed pressure of the European Union and its representative Javier Solana - along with numerous doubts and much discontent - has also brought certainty that the year 2002 in the by now former FR Yugoslavia (FRY) will primarily be an election year. The elections for the joint parliament of Serbia and Montenegro will be scheduled by the end of the year, after the parliaments of both states pass the agreement on the union and constitutional principles of the union. In that case, both members should pass new constitutions that will be in harmony with the requirements and standards of the European Union. The procedure of amending the existing constitutions of Serbia and Montenegro (and FR Yugoslavia, as well) can be initiated and implemented in different ways: by a referendum which (in Serbia) requires the support of more than half of the citizens of age, by an assembly decision with the support of two thirds of the deputies and previous general political consent to proclaim the assembly to be constitutional, or by scheduling elections for constitutional assembly.

Every reasonable administration would use the political circumstances which dictate scheduling of regular (presidential in Serbia and in Montenegro, local in Montenegro and a part of Serbia) and early elections (required by the agreement signed in Belgrade and in Barcelona) to round off the election season. As concerning Serbia, this means that it should schedule early parliamentary elections. Reason, however, is not a necessary precondition for the existence and survival of a regime, and all things considered, especially in Serbia. It would be difficult to explain how could the ruling coalition, Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) afford such a decline of support that is registered by all public opinion polls. The warning increase of indecisiveness and lack of commitment that reached two fifths of the electorate - which is practically equal to the percentage of those who still support DOS - shows that the ruling coalition is surviving mostly thanks to the absence of competition on the political scene. On the other hand, the conviction that early parliamentary elections are necessary is expressed by 57 per cent of the pollees who participated in the poll of Marten Board International from Belgrade; the reason why they are necessary 51 per cent sees in the failure of the government to fulfill its promises, and 17.5 per cent of the participants in the poll see it in the need to clarify relations within DOS. With 12.5 per cent of those who believe that the elections will accelerate transition and reforms, this poll points out that a large majority of the people are inclined towards having the current political situation in Serbia resolved by elections.

Since August last year, this "current political situation" is a euphemism that stands for unconcealed incapability and unwillingness of the leaders of DOS to put public interest before personal animosities. The period of scandals began in August last year with the murder of Momir Gavrilovic, former worker of State Security Service, and it reached its climax some time ago when Momcilo Perisic, deputy prime minister of Serbia, was arrested under suspicion of espionage. The murderer of Gavrilovic who had met advisors of President of FRY Vojislav Kostunica, was not found.

The "Delimustafic scandal" that started in the end of last year by the arrest of former minister of internal affairs of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Alija Delimustafic, in Belgrade, that caused a whole series of accusations among the quarrelling parties of former DOS, ended by the pronounced sentence of 90 days in prison (that had passed in the meantime) for the possession of an identity card with a false name in it. A new wave of severe mutual accusations was provoked by the arrest of Momcilo Perisic. What some journalists call "DOS Minus" - consisting of Prime Minister Zoran Djindic's Democratic Party (DS) and the minor parties which support him, that obviously often condition that support of theirs - accuses Vojislav Kostunica both in the capacity of the president of FRY and that of the leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), in the former capacity, of anti-state, and in the latter, of anti-reform activities.

Regardless of the fact that it has met most of the requirements of the USA, the certainty that the Government of Serbia will have to extradite a few persons indicted of war crimes to the Hague is not making things any better. "DOS Minus" has not supported the latest Kostunica's efforts to regulate the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal by some kind of a law and it put itself - it seems, quite short-sightedly - in a situation to carry out the extraditions pursuant its own decree again. In this way, it additionally reduced the support of the public. Regular public opinion polls show a new significant sharp decline of popularity of the government of Prime Minister Djindjic immediately after the espionage scandal involving deputy prime minister Momcilo Perisic had broken out. The next decline of popularity will follow immediately after extraditions, since the only thing that has a stable negative rating in Serbia is the Hague Tribunal (even NATO, three years after bombing of Yugoslavia, has slightly improved its image among the citizens of Serbia).

An additional burden for Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is the part of the government that is still failing to justify its existence. Unlike the unexpectedly popular minister of finance Bozidar Djelic, there is, for instance, minister of police Dusan Mihajlovic who has in the past year several times announced his resignation, but has not submitted it even after the declaration of Prime Minister Djindjic that in fifty towns of Serbia everybody knows who controls the local mafia, who are the judges that tolerate this and who is collaborating with whom in shady dealings. This "year of privatization" (sale of 90 enterprises was announced) minister in charge, Aleksandar Vlahovic has entered with the burden of insufficiently transparent sale of Beocin cement factory to French Lapharge; minister of justice and local self-administration, Vladan Batic has offered and supported quite bureaucratic, almost feudal powers of municipality heads...

Prime Minister Djindjic himself added his own contribution to all that. Last summer he had announced a reconstruction of the cabinet for September, and later postponed it for March 2002. To this day this reconstruction has not taken place, although public opinion polls in January showed that 67 per cent of the citizens considered it necessary. The problem again comes down to the relation between "DOS Minus" and DSS: The mentioned poll shows that two thirds of the pollees support the return of DSS into the government of Serbia. Instead of the reconstruction of the cabinet, the Prime Minister spent considerable time on "buying" support within "DOS Minus". The northern province of Serbia, Voivodina, for instance, was given back its autonomy jurisdiction by a package of laws. In order to ensure the support of a minor party, Djindjic's government approved construction of a tobacco factory in Cacak practically overnight, despite the previous decision that this type of investments should be subject to a general decision-making, in a public procedure and based on a public tender of all interested parties.

Immediately after signing of the agreement on the union of Serbia and Montenegro, deputy federal Premier Miroljub Labus, known as "the one who bears good news" because of his role in negotiations with international financial organizations, declared that he was reflecting on running for the president of Serbia. Regardless of possible postponing or expediting (the current President of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, is indicted by the Hague Tribunal along with three other closest associates of Milosevic), this election will certainly take place by the end of this year. Miroljub Labus is undoubtedly popular in public: along with Vojislav Kostunica and Bozidar Djelic, he is by far the most favourably judged person on the political scene. In view of the political circumstances in Serbia, the fact that the public looks upon him - like Djelic for that matter - as an expert and not a professional politician is an exceptional advantage. The support he has got from G17+ expert group he is a member of added to his image of a successful expert, minimizing his membership in Djindjic's DS (Djindjic himself praised his candidacy in not so many words, stressing that DOS could have other good candidates).

Labus' clear declaration that he was reflecting on possible candidacy had a trigger effect provoking a whole avalanche of official and unofficial candidacies for the president of Serbia. Velimir Ilic, mayor of Cacak, "champion of October 5 revolution", who is still a potential deputy prime minister of Serbia in the government which, if Prime Minister Djindjic fulfills his promise, will be the largest one in Europe, is announcing his own candidacy, except if his counter-candidate is Vojislav Kostunica. President of FRY, Vojislav Kostunica, who has on several occasions "offered" the post of the future president of the union of Serbia and Montenegro to somebody from the smaller part of the country, refuses to give the answer to the question about his own candidacy for the post of the president of Serbia by saying that at the moment he was busy contemplating on a "third matter" - the future of the union of Serbia and Montenegro.

President of the Party of Serb Unity (SSJ) founded by Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, Borislav Pelevic, humbly declared that his possible candidacy for president of Serbia should be proposed and, in case of other candidates from within his party, supported by local party organizations. The leaders of the Radicals, Vojislav Seselj, "nominated" once more his vice-president, Tomislav Nikolic, for the post. Vuk Draskovic, the biggest political loser of the October 5 changes in Serbia and the leader of the Serb Revival Movement (which is not even represented in the parliament), declared that his party would nominate "somebody else" for the president of Serbia. The officials of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia have manifested a similar dose of realism and humbleness: their president is in the Hague, and it seems that nobody has the courage to attempt to revive this party.

The list of those who dream that they might run in the elections for president is certainly much longer. Former Yugoslav prime minister, American citizen and businessman, Milan Panic, has not yet declared his intention to put up his candidacy, but - judging by the ads in the past few weeks about successful business deals that begin with 200 and end up with 2.5 billion dollars - he has obviously already launched his campaign. In view of the speculations that he has already printed a hundred thousand election posters, that he is shooting a feature-length film about his career, but also of the experience of a man who had in just ten days of an effective campaign "snatched away" more than one third of the votes from his rival at the time Slobodan Milosevic, Panic's ambitions should not be underestimated, nor his possible decision to run in the election, since he is from experience well informed about the relations in the former oppositionist, nowadays ruling Serbia's political scene. There is also, although not with such a clear and good background, Serb Diaspora has also announced its own candidate - Miroslav Mike Djordjevic, one of the many "richest Serbs in the world".

Shifting the interest of the public to possible candidates for the post of the president of Serbia, the election for which will have to take place in January next year at the latest, could be interpreted as a test of the disposition of the citizens. Analysts in Belgrade estimate, however, that - along with all the elections that have come on the agenda by reorganization of the joint state - Serbia will also be the battleground of early parliamentary elections in which the former allies in the struggle against Slobodan Milosevic will be rivals: "DOS Minus" and DSS, G17+ and, perhaps, even Otpor (Resistance People's Movement) which has also dissolved and split in the meantime. According to the well informed sources, the question that battles are fought over when early parliamentary elections are concerned is the necessary minimum for entering the parliament. The current three per cent is too high for some. This detail perhaps shows how big their contribution is to real changes in Serbia.

Aleksandar Ciric