Glupi telefoni

Now that Tadić has won an election (more or less) on his own, Koštunica no longer holds a dominant position in the government he heads. So he has decided to obstruct its functioning by refusing to allow it to meet to vote on an issue he knows he will lose. This is more or less as I observed in the short piece I wrote just after the election:
This significant development echoes another, little noticed one that happened in the week before the election. It was in itself a minor event, but something happened in the governing coalition for the first time since it was formed after an arduous four-month process in May 2007: the ministers from the DS and the G17+ outvoted, en bloc, the ministers from the DSS and the NS. Few people will be materially affected by the decision, but as an announcement of the intention by the DS to function as an autonomous political actor, its importance is unmistakable. The DS now has a president with a majority mandate, and it controls a majority of the seats in the cabinet.
An obvious consequence is that the government could easily fall. This was probably the more likely of the two scenarios I set out (the other was that Koštunica would brave marginality to keep the job he thinks is his by right).

But I did not have a sense when I offered the prediction that it would happen within a week. DSS-NS and its allies in SRS and SPS want a discussion in parliament on Serbia's kobajagi agreement with the EU without the government meeting beforehand to give its recommendation, as the law requires. So Koštunica has been ignoring demands by the majority of government ministers, the presiding officer of the parliament, and the president of the republic to schedule a meeting of the cabinet.

Some sort of compromise appears to have been reached, if you can call it that. The cabinet will meet by telephone. I do not know what sort of procedural rules apply to such a meeting, but there have been stranger meetings.

Koštunica put himself in the position of holding a vote in the cabinet, which he would lose, or causing new elections, which he would also lose. The second of these is what will most likely happen, sooner rather than later.

Correction: The ministers will chat over the telephone about the sale of the mining operation in Bor, but not about the agreement with the EU. Selling off the country's natural resources is important, its future is not.


Anonymous said...

Actually, he does want to hold a vote that he will win - in parliament, where his point of view on the matter holds a majority. That is the house of the people... Kostunica shows greater democratic credentials than the "ends justify the means" Tadic and the rest of the DS ...

As for Tadic winning it on his own, I hardly think so. With the near media monopoly and massive financial advantage he held, with money pouring in from the governments that bombed his country, he still needed the Hungarians, Albanians and so-called Bosniaks to put him over the top (and yes, their sectional leaders are taking credit for it)... not to mention the DS and G17 Plus control of government ministries that can put pressure to bear on people to vote a certain way...

Tadic also got the votes of those who want to flee Serbia for Ireland and Britain as many from Poland and the Baltics have since EU membership.

I know that certain people want to see to it that only people of this ilk have the vote whilst Radical and Socialist voters are disqualified by definition in order to continue the "inevitable march to a Euro-Atlantic future" but some may just describe this as the plans of a dictatorship driven by a totalitarian mentality.

Dejan said...

Eric, I read somewhere that members of the cabinet can vote by telephone or fax (no e-mail though:).

Anonymous, I think you got it completely wrong. Those of us who are petrified by the idea of Radicals and "Socialists" coming to power again simply remember how life was in 1990s. I for one don't propose we take away suffrage from their voters - I rather want to ban those two parties and their 1990s leaders from taking part in political life of Serbia. On ground of genocide, murder, pillage, theft and abuse of office. In that order.

Claudia said...

Actually, the Albanians down in Presevo refused to vote for either Kostunica or Tadic. And it's interesting to see that Anonymous doesn't think Hungarian or Bosniak votes should count either.

Still, there is a point: the Parliament is supposed to be a more basic authority than the Cabinet. If the majority of Parliament is really opposed to something that the Cabinet favors, then something's not right -- the government isn't really representing the balance of forces in Parliament. A minority government (which is what Serbia has right now) is exactly when you'd expect to see this, and new elections are the normal resolution.

IOW, while Serbia's political situation is deeply weird, the way the system is dealing with it isn't (yet).

What I can't figure is what Kostunica thinks he's doing here. The Gazprom sale was popular, but spiking a deal with Brussels is not. This doesn't seem like a vote-winner.

Other-other hand, he may be figuring that (1) he's got an irreducible minimum of support such that DSS will get back into Parliament without losing too many seats (probably true), and (2) the Radicals will claim a third or so of the seats once again (probably true) and (3) therefore, it will be almost impossible to form a coalition without DSS (good chance this will be true) and (4) he can out-stubborn everyone else to become PM again.

That last one may seem like a stretch. OTOH, I've become wary of any prediction about Serbian politics that assumes DS reaching down and finding a pair.

Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

I want an SMS cabinet meeting!

But Doug and Anon -- the government vs parliament issue is being manipulated. The system is designed to avoid forum-shopping. This means that yes, the parliament has to have a vote, and same as in any other country, a treaty cannot be approved without a parliamentary vote. But the constitution (and maybe more importantly, the poslovnik according to which the government and parliament operate) provide that first, the government has to meet first to give its recommendation, and second, the parliament cannot schedule a vote without having this recommendation from the government. Kostunica knows this perfectly well -- both the constitution and the poslovnik are his products.

As for all this business about depriving people of the right to vote: it says nothing to me at all. It's hard enough to get people who have the right to vote to use it.