Prediction: Trouble for Koštunica, or not

If you have been following the news the past few days, you probably know that the United States is suspending economic aid to Serbia and Montenegro because of failure to apprehend and deliver indictees for the violation of international humanitarian law to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague. The main political actors opposed to stepping up cooperation, aside from SRS and SPS which are directly complicit in the crimes for which charges have been filed, are: Prime minister Vojislav Koštunica, interior minister Dragan Jočić, and justice minister Zoran Stojković, all from DSS. The opposition DS of president Boris Tadić supports accelerated cooperation, as does federal president Svetozar Marović. Other supporters of accelerated cooperation include deputy premier Miroljub Labus (G17+) and foreign minister Vuk Drašković (SPO).

B92 quotes Mr Drašković today: "Slobodan Milošević, his generals, commanders and followers are a disgrace to our history and tradition. The transfer of indictees to the Hague is our moral and national obligation. The future of the people cannot be held hostage to a handful of indictees." Even people who disagree about the "disgrace" part are probably finding more reasons to agree about the "hostage" part.

Never mind the opposition parties. If the parties which are now in the government but oppose Mr Koštunica's approach were to withdraw from the governing coalition, it would force new elections to be called, and DSS would not win. Mr Tadić has invited the parties to do just that. What remains to be seen is how serious this invitation is, and how ready the people in power are to take the risk of losing it.

Update: Time to see whether G17+ is serious about anything. Blic is reporting that G17+ vice president Dušan Petrović is inviting his own party, SPO and Nova Srbija to withdraw from the governing coalition if DSS does not come forward with a policy in ten days. "Let them decide whether they accept that Serbia return to isolation or whether they will take measures to prevent it," the paper quotes Mr Petrović as saying. Correction: Mr Petrović is a vice president of DS. Makes more sense. Nova Srbija has already declared that they have no intention of withdrawing from Mr Koštunica's coalition, while SPO declares that their preferred resolution is not that they leave the government, but that DS enter it. So clearly a lot of options are in play, and much of it seems to depend on how receptive G17+ and SPO are likely to be to coordinating their activity with their sometime opponents in DS. The worst case scenario? All the centrist parties leave, and DSS stays in power with the support of SRS. Too disgusting to conceive of, you say? They already made a similar deal with SPS, which is how Mr Koštunica was able to form a government in the first place.

Update2: Have a look at Gordana Suša's commentary in Nezavisne novine.

Update3: Tomorrow's news today -- Danas is reporting from "circles close to the Serbian government" that the government has agreed with the State Department to arrest three generals indicted by ICTY if they do not appear voluntarily by 27 January. This is not the whole enchilada, but it is at least a bean. Either the coalition parties succeeded in pressuring DSS, or the whole conflict was a media spectacle. Or the "circles" are rolling out false information.


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting little situation.

New elections would be great for the Democrats -- Tadic is relatively popular, and enough time has passed for the grossest offenses of the last administration to begin to fade in memory. They would make gains.

Less good for G17, whose urban-educated-technocrat base is pretty fixed. They won't gain by new elections, and might lose if there's a backlash. So they'll bitch and moan, but stay put.

Radicals, hey, they're good either way -- as long as much of Serbia is still in sacred victim mode, they'll do just fine.

Socialists, huh-uh; they're still alarmed at how badly they did last time, just squeaking in. If they don't get 5% of the vote, they're gone forever.

IMO it all comes down to the SPO, and you have a real divide there. The rank and file don't really want new elections just now. The public mood is not with them, and they know it. But Vuk hates Milosevic and all his works with a blinding passion, and he has a well-established track record of being a political spoiler. (Some think he has a touch of sacred victim complex in his own right.) So he may well try to lead his people out of government. If he does, at least some of them will follow.

(Oh, and the Hungarians support new elections. For what that's worth. The election law was amended to lower the threshold for ethnic-minority parties from 5% to 3%, basically in order to get some Hungarians into Parliament. So they're champing at the bit.)

Even _in extremis_, I don't see Kostunica jumping into bed with the Radicals. The Socialists, yeah, but they're a spent force; nobody imagines they're going to take Serbia back into a war, and the international community has shown that they don't mind them much. Also, they're not formally part of the government... they're just supporting it in Parliament, while picking up a few sub-Ministerial posts.

But the Radicals are something else. Note that Kostunica does still have something to lose here... US aid has been cut, but he can still strive for Eurorespectability. (The Europeans are being wisely opaque.) If he accepts the Radicals into government, he loses that chance. And I don't see the Radicals passively supporting a DSS-G17 government without demanding a few Ministries for themselves.

So, my conclusion: if Vuk bolts, we have new elections. If not, not.

Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

I'd just add two observations about SPO:
1. The membership and Vuk have been headed in opposite directions for years, and
2. Vuk does not hate anything as much as he loves being in power.
So yeah, there are some disincentives. Probably G17, SPO and also DSS realize that elections could be fatal for them.

Eric Gordy said...

Another quick note here -- Doug is absolutely right that the big question is whether DSS would take the plunge and throw in its lots with the Radicals. Kostunica has been skirting the edge of this precipice for some time, but has managed not to jump in. If it were actually to happen, the consequences would completely rearrange the political system, and it would either mean that some kind of new DSS-SPS-SRS cohabitation would develop, or that all the other parties would suddenly lose their inhibitions about a coalition with DS, which would then become a large and corrupt "party of government" like the whole region had in the 1920s and 1930s. A lot of people seem to think that Kostunica has enough self-regard left not to do it, but I am not so confident. However, the insecurity of G17 and SPO might mean that the situation will not arise in which we can find out.

Anonymous said...

Eric -- I'm inclined to doubt that Kostunica will take the plunge. He's a reflexive little-c conservative, a fussy legalist, and more than a bit of a pedant. In terms of political ideology he's not too far from the Radicals, but there's a big look-and-feel problem there. Radical stunts like showing up to Parliament in black t-shirts are really offensive to him. Joining with them would be stooping, and he really hates to stoop.

That's putting aside the whole outrage-of-Europe issue. (Which is no small thing.)

If he does it, though, then it gives a pretty solid majority. DSS + Radicals = 45% of the popular vote and 135 Parliamentary seats (out of 250). Throw in the Socialists, and you have 52% of the popular vote and 157 seats in Parliament. That's a lot. Even if some DSSers defect (there are a few who would), this would be a very stable government, unlikely to be toppled by anything but outside pressure intelligently applied.

(For reference purposes, here's my old analysis of the election results from last January.)

The DSS corrupt party-of-government scenario is interesting, and not inherently implausible. This was the long-term trend under Djindjic, I think -- if he'd survived, and squeaked through the 2003 election, it would be the way to bet.

But it's IMO unlikely in the immediate future. Unlike, say, Romanian politics (which are all about opportunism) Serbian politics have real and deep divisions of personality and ideology. Well, not exactly ideology, but... deeply held beliefs and (especially) resentments. Kostunica loathes the DS leadership as corrupt, Vuk hates Socialists, the Radicals are committed to acting out the pain of wounded Serbia, G17 folks think they're the only sane ones in the madhouse.

So while a vast coalition isn't impossible, there's a get-there-from-here problem. Exacerbated by the fact that DSS and the Radicals are, at the moment, the two biggest parties.

Serbian politics: fractal, and strangely engrossing.

Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

I expect you are probably right. An open arrangement with SRS is not likely -- but may not be completely out of the picture either. I can imagine Kostunica coming out with "legalistic" arguments that SRS is a legitimate party and that he has the responsibility to preserve institutions and so on. In any case, the current crisis seems to be blowing over, but DS has shown that it could force elections. SPO is only one barrier, the other is G17, whose leaders are probably aware that their good performance in the last election was a fluke.
Nice analysis, by the way.