LESSONS OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN SERBIA


23.01.07
MOSCOW. (Pyotr Iskanderov for RIA Novosti)

Last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Serbia were indicative in many respects. They cast a new light on domestic political processes, prospects of Kosovo settlement and the future of Serbia’s relations with the European Union (EU). Moreover, they are bound to affect the destiny of breakaway republics on post-Soviet territory.

Preliminary results of the voting suggest the first conclusion – it was wrong to talk about voter apathy in Serbia. Over 60% of eligible voters have turned up at the polling stations – more than for elections held in the past few years. This fact not only attests to the Serbians’ high political activity but also shows that the elections fairly and legitimately reflect the domestic situation.

Secondly, two formerly influential forces – the Socialist Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) – have actually left the political scene. The former has barely passed a 5% threshold needed to win seats in parliament. The latter has remained without a faction in parliament, which is a heavy blow to SPO leader and current Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.

Thirdly, the results of the elections are particularly alarming for the West. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) is still the leading political force in the country. Its leader Vojislav Seselj has been on trial in the Hague since February 2003. It is an open secret that in the past few months, the West was doing all it could to secure success in the elections for the loyal parties, first and foremost, the Democratic Party (DP) headed by the current President Boris Tadic. UN envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari even broke his promise to resolve the Kosovo problem by the end of 2006. He delayed the publication of his plan till late January to prevent the Serbian authorities from having to choose between Kosovo and European integration. But this tactic has failed, and in preliminary estimates the DP has received less than 23% votes, which is a clear setback considering powerful propaganda support for its campaign at home and abroad.

As a result, the parliamentary majority will go to the fierce opponents of Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. Unlike Boris Tadic, who called on the Serbian voters to accept Kosovo’s potential loss, even his colleague in the democratic camp, DP leader Vojislav Kostunica, promised to do all he could against Kosovo’s cessation, and actually sided with the radicals on this score. The Socialists, an opposition party, are most likely to vote against the Ahtisaari plan, all the more so if it is brought to parliament by the much-hated President Tadic. The DP and the other emphatically pro-Western party of Liberal Democrats (LDP), which has been elected to parliament, will not have enough votes to let it approve Kosovo’s independence.

Moreover, it may happen that the forces united under the democratic opposition banner since the times of Milosevic will not be able to form a valid government. Despite a relative setback of his party, Vojislav Kostunica is not going to give up his premiership to a DP candidate and will need SRS support for this. A vague situation and political bargaining may last for three months (this is the term assigned by the Serbian constitution for the government’s formation) and eventually lead to parliament’s dissolution and new elections, at which the voters, disappointed over the squabble among the Democrats, are most likely to give even more support to the opposition radicals.

To sum up, the Sunday elections in Serbia have increased the likelihood of a scenario that has been a nightmare for the Kosovo separatists and their Western soul mates for a long time. If the Serbian parliament refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, its cessation can only be imposed on Belgrade by force. This is exactly the case against which President Vladimir Putin has warned more than once. He is firmly resolved not to allow the UN Security Council to pass a decision on Kosovo that would be unacceptable for Belgrade. It is clear what he meant as the head of a state with the right to veto in the UN Security Council.

The leaders of the breakaway republics on post-Soviet territory should draw their own conclusion from the elections in Serbia. I think they will become even more disappointed with the ability of the Western leaders and international officials to exert effective influence on the domestic situation in foreign countries. Consolidation of the supporters of united Serbia may provide only a scant relief to Chisinau and Tbilisi. The Serbians’ resolve to determine the destiny of their country without any outside interference fully conforms to the aspirations of breakaway republics. Hence, the idea of national self-determination will receive a new impetus in Transdnestr, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Pyotr Iskanderov, Institute of Slavic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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