Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Feuding Leaders Make Peace
The coalition that toppled Slobodan Milosevic has patched up internal squabbles to fight Serbian elections which they hope will root out the last of the ex-Yugoslav president's loyalists.
But whether Vojislav Kostunica's 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, will stay united after he election on December 23 looks highly doubtful. Already, political leaders are embroiled in intensive backstage plotting to ensure they come out on top.
After a two-week dispute, Kostunica agreed to let Zoran Djindjic, second most prominent DOS leader, become Serbia's prime minister following the election, in exchange for two major concessions.
One was that Djindjic agree with Kostunica's that the government take control of public companies which have been run by "crises committees" - allegedly masterminded by Djindjic - since the fall of Milosevic.
Kostunica's second demand concerned negotiations with Montenegro over moves by the government of President Milo Djukanovic to secede from the Yugoslav federation.
The Federal President insisted that Djindjic agree that the Yugoslav authorities be involved together with the representatives of both republics in these negotiations.
This would frustrate some DOS members, including Djindjic, a close friend of Djukanovic, who are thought to want a weaker federation and possibly two independent states.
Besides the dispute over Djindjic's appointment as prime minister, he and Kostunica had been quarrelling over their respective parties' representation on the DOS electoral list.
Djindjic, who heads the Democratic Party, DS, agreed to let Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, have equal representation. Each party will now have 26 per cent of the DOS seats.
It seems that Djindjic agreed because Kostunica's growing popularity caused support for the DSS to rise from 7 to 35 per cent of the electorate, making it not only the most popular party within the DOS but throughout Serbia.
Djindjic, on the other hand, is supported by only two per cent of the electorate - even less than Vojislav Seselj - which is why he has been so determined to be appointed prime minister now.
Opinion polls predict DOS may win 160 out of the 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. Such a result could spell final defeat for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia.
But DOS parties are too far apart on a host of issues to stay united for long after the election. They disagree on such matters as Serbian nationalism, the running of state institutions and the way to tackle crime. Their only common bond up till now was a determination to get rid of Milosevic and his cronies.
Behind the scenes, Djindjic and Kostunica are already battling for supremacy in the new Serbia.
Kostunica predicted at a recent party meeting that DOS would be dissolved soon after the December elections, when Djindjic, some suspect, may renounce the two conditions he agreed to in order to become prime minister.
Djindjic reckons he will be in a much better position than Kostunica, following the formation of a Serbian government.
Under the constitution, real political power is concentrated within the republics. Djindjic believes that as Serbian prime minister he would gain more prominence on the ground and as a negotiator with the international community.
In relations with the international community, Djindjic could become a far more flexible negotiator than Kostunica who is noted for anti-American leanings and stubborn insistence on Serbian interests.
Djindjic's party comprises able professionals, unlike Kostunica's DSS where unqualified enthusiasts prevail.
Also, the informal political alliance between Djukanovic and Djindjic might squeeze Kostunica out of the picture, in the way Mikhail Gorbachev was cast aside in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"After the election, Kostunica will be left on the sidelines," predicted Slavko Perovic, a founder of the Montenegrin Liberal Party and radical supporter of Djukanovic's independence project. Perovic thinks Djindjic will become Number One on the Serbian political scene, leaving the way open for agreement between Montenegro and Serbia.
Time is on Djindjic's side and he doesn't now need open conflict with Kostunica. He claims however that his attempts to maintain a working relationship with him are being undermined by state security, which is still under Milosevic's control.
"They want to blame me for stirring up trouble against Kostunica and portray him as a moderate man who seeks peace, law and security," wrote Djindjic in the Belgrade weekly Blic News.
However, the differences are far greater than Djindjic is prepared to acknowledge.
His opponents think that behind his radical demand to remove Milosevic's men from office lies his wish to replace them with his own people and take over Milosevic's channels of power.
DOS leaders no longer doubt the coalition will break up. They now concentrate on what form the regrouping will take. Vuk Obradovic, leader of the Social Democrats, thinks the alliance will split into three blocs: a social-democratic left-wing; a centrist liberal-democratic group; and a nationalist centre-right.
Although he mentioned no names, it was clear Obradovic sees himself as the leader of the first bloc with Kostunica heading the centre-right group. Others believe the DOS would split in two between Kostunica and Djindjic.
Whatever the result, after December 23 Serbia will be sailing in uncharted waters.
Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.