05/05/2008 - D-7
On 11th May next nearly 7 million Serbs are being called to renew their Parliament during early general elections organised after the resignation of Vojislav Kostunica's government (Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS) on 8th March last. They will also be voting for their provincial and local representatives. The Serb authorities have declared that both elections (legislative and local) will also be organised in Kosovo whose independence Belgrade is still refusing to acknowledge. "We believe that it is important that all over Kosovo citizens acknowledge Serbia as their State, that they can choose democratically their own town councils and their parliamentary representatives," stressed President of the Republic Boris Tadic (Democratic Party, DS). Belgrade is planning to open 279 polling stations in the old Serb province 25 of which will be in Pristina and 20 in Mitrovica. The local elections are due to take place in 16 towns. To date however the UN administration is the only authority that can decide to organise elections in Kosovo (the Kosovo Constitution will not come into force until 15th June next) and although the UN Interim Administration Mission of Kosovo has accepted the legislative elections it has refused the local one since it would endanger the sovereignty of the new State; it is also illegal given UN resolution 1244. Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, said that the Serbs that hold dual nationality (Serb and Kosovar) will be able to vote in the Serb elections and he has declared the local elections illegal.
On 29th April after several postponements the European Union and Serbia finally signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement as part of the pre-accession process. The latter, on the request of the Netherlands and Belgium, will still be determined by Belgrade's efforts to co-operate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY), notably with regard to the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide and war crimes and Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. "It is an historic day for Serbia and the European Union, we are irreversibly on the road towards accession," declared Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic (DS). "The signature of this agreement will enable us to move forwards to a new chapter in our history," stressed President of the Republic, Boris Tadic.
With this signature the European Union hopes to strengthen the pro-European parties notably the Democratic Party led by President Tadic with a view to the upcoming general elections. Although the majority of Serbs still support integration into the EU the latter's image has suffered however due to Brussels' support of Kosovo's independence, which has been acknowledged by 18 EU' Members States to date.
"We applaud the fact that the EU has said that Serbia has its place in the European family but these declarations are not enough especially when the nationalists show that Brussels is not treating Serbia as well as it does other countries," said President of the Serb Parliament, Oliver Dulic (DS), who recalls that Croatia signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement whilst Ante Gotovina, accused of crimes against humanity and for acts committed against Serb civilians under his command has still not been found.
Some organisations have warned the European institutions about their obvious support of the pro-Europeans in the electoral campaign and also of the consequences this might lead to. "The population's anger about Western support of Kosovo's independence is such that any attempt by the European Union or the US to support the pro-Western parties before the general elections may strengthen the nationalist vote," declared James Lyon, advisor for Crisis Group, an NGO. "The declaration of Kosovo's independence produced shock waves across the Serb political world and across society such that they have been polarised in a way that has not been witnessed since Slobodan Milosevic (1989-2000)," warns Crisis Group. The director of Crisis Group Europe, Sabine Freizer, made a last bid to dissuade Brussels from signing the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia. Over the last few days the European Commission has called on Member States to help the Serbs to obtain visas to travel in the Union.
The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) like the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica rejected the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Vojislav Kostunica declared that this signature was an "anti-national and anti-constitutional act" whereby Serbia "would acknowledge the independence of Kosovo". These statements are rejected by the DS and G17+, a member of the outgoing government coalition, led by Regional Finance and Development Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who sees an economic agreement which in no way challenges the sovereignty nor the territorial integrity of Serbia.
"We are telling President Tadic that his signature is not that of Serbia; he has placed the seal of Judas on the text of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana," indicated Andrija Mladenovic, Vojislav Kostunica's spokesperson. "We reject the Seal of Judas, Javier Solana will not govern Serbia," maintained Education Minister Zoran Loncar (DSS), adding that the government and the Parliament that came after the elections could cancel this signature.
Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic, stressed that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement clarified the way the European Union saw Serbia, ie as a State that had been amputated from part of its territory, Kosovo. The SRS indicated that it would request a vote of confidence against Head of State, Boris Tadic.
Kosovo is still the central issue of the electoral campaign. Vojislav Kostunica has promised to bring back the old Serb province within Belgrade's fold. "In my opinion, Kosovo is more than politics and more than a territory. In my opinion it is more than a position, more than simply concessions. Kosovo forces us to show whether we are a State that respects itself as a nation or whether we are puppets who do not hesitate to negotiate our vital interests," he declared, adding, "If I have to choose between a European future and the country's integrity I would choose the country's integrity."
"Vojislav Kostunica has just one idea in mind: thinking that Kosovo is Serb whilst it is now independent," indicates Borka Pavicevic, director of the Centre for Cultural Decontamination. "The real impact of Kosovo's independence on the Serbs is equal to zero. This story is simply a political battle," stressed the leader of the Social Democratic League of Vojvodina (LSV), Nenad Canak. Indeed it seems to have been understood: Serbia has neither the means nor the same will to send its army into Kosovo. After so many years of conflict and violence the population seems to have finished mourning the former Serb province. The ideas put forward by the radicals have certainly been encouraged by the ICTY's acquittal of former Kosovar Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj at the beginning of April, the latter being considered a war criminal by the Serbs. "We are now waiting for the EU's position on the ICTY's legitimacy and we are waiting to see whether this institution can still be considered a real court," declared the Prime Minister after the verdict.
During the electoral campaign Vojislav Kostunica has tried to distinguish himself from the SRS. "The general elections are a chance for the citizens to asses our policy and to support us. Everyone knows that I have accepted national responsibilities three times, once those of President of the Republic, and twice that of head of government. Everyone also knows that I resigned twice, which for me means that political principles are what count the most and that I only accept responsibilities if I am able to apply my principles - those which are of interest to the State and the nation," he maintained.
For his part the President of the Republic and leader of the Democratic Party, Boris Tadic is trying to convince voters that there is no alternative to the European Union. In his opinion a government led by the SRS and the DSS would lead the country into isolation, there would be a decline in investments and everything that has been achieved since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 would be destroyed. "I am still convinced that we shall defend Kosovo better by being in Europe than if we are against it," repeats Boris Tadic. He is asking the Serbs to support him so that he can continue the reforms that will enable Belgrade to join the EU. "The more we keep up the pace the earlier Serbia will enter the European Union," he repeats maintaining that 2012 seems like a realistic date for accession. He hopes that Serbia will achieve official candidate status before the end of 2008. "The elections on 11th May next will be a real referendum on Serbia's membership of the European Union," says Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. "If people say no, this will lead to Serbia and the Western Balkan's isolation and to a serious degree of instability."
The SRS and the DSS are trying to turn the election into a referendum on Kosovo. SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic has suggested a parliamentary session on two issues: the ratification of the agreement with Russia and the adoption of a resolution on the security of foreign investments in Serbia. As usual he focussed his electoral campaign on social issues – inflation, unemployment and living costs – and also on the fight against corruption allowing the DSS to turn the coalition "For a European Serbia –Democratic Party-G17+-Boris Tadic" led by the head of State into an "anti-Serb" movement. "Boris Tadic promotes Serbia's European integration in spite of what the European Union might do with Kosovo, Tomislav Nikolic privileges social justice," analyses political expert Dusan Pavlovic.
Although Serbia has a GDP growth rate of 7.2% (third quarter of 2007) a record since 2000 most citizens do not benefit from this and inflation is high (6.5% over the last twelve months). "Political instability has an impact on foreign investment, monetary stability and growth," stresses Goran Nikolic, an analyst at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. Hence the Belex 15 index in Belgrade has fallen by 30% since the beginning of the year. Likewise we have observed a clear reduction in foreign investment over the last few months. The Democratic Party, by means of the Deputy Prime Minister for integration into the European Union, Bozidar Djelic (DS) has promised to reduce the budgetary deficit by 0.5% of the GDP without raising taxes.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) hopes to create a specific agency to take direct care of the problems of the youngest. Its leader Cedomir Jovanovic is promising to focus on education, healthcare, social issues, European integration and co-operation with the ICTY in The Hague. He says he is ready to govern with the Democratic Party led by Boris Tadic and G17+.
On 3rd February last Boris Tadic won the second round of the presidential election over his rival Tomislav Nikolic. On 11th May next every vote will count and at just one week before the election the Democratic Party (DS) and the Radical Party (SRS) are running neck and neck in the polls. The most recent survey by the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CeSID) credits the SRS with 36.5% of the vote and the DS with 33.5%. The DSS is due to win 12.5% of the vote and the LDP would rise above the 5% of the vote, vital to be represented in Parliament.
"There is no doubt that a post-electoral agreement between the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Radical Party is the most realistic variation because of the degree of empathy between the two parties on issues of regarding the state and the nation. In addition to this, there are still strong opposition forces separating the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Democratic Party. It seems practically impossible that both parties will ever agree again. They would have to face the problems that have already divided them," analyses sociologist Zoran Avramovic.
Much depends on the party that comes out ahead on 11th May. Will the SRS come out ahead of the DS? Will the LDP succeed in rising above the 5% mark to sit in Parliament? The Constitution does not oblige President Boris Tadic to ask the leader of the party which comes first to form the next government. He has the possibility of proposing this to the person he believes to be best placed to establish a parliamentary majority. "The probability of having an ultra-nationalist or a pro-European government is equal," maintains Zoran Lucic of the Centre for Free Election and Democracy; he thinks that it will be possible for another round of elections to take place after 11th May.