Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kostunica's Party Government Front-Runner

If Democratic Party of Serbia is elected, it's likely to continue previous government's reforms, but will have to overcome policy differences with coalition partners.
By Daniel Sunter

The government formed after the forthcoming parliamentary election in Serbia is likely to press on with economic and institutional reforms, analysts say.

But the coalition that is shaping up between the Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, and G17 Plus may be hampered by disputes over possible Montenegrin secession from the union with Serbia, and cooperation with the Hague tribunal.

Many analysts predict that the single biggest winner in the December 28 ballot will be the extreme nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is currently in The Hague facing war crimes charges.

But since no one will work with the radicals, the DSS - the party of former president Vojislav Kostunica - looks likely to be given the task of forming a government.

Rumours that it would instead approach G17 Plus, the economic reformers' party, were confirmed on December 21, when it announced that it was likely to seek a coalition with that group. G17 Plus responded positively, saying the pact could go ahead as long as certain conditions were met.

The DSS, whose election platform centres on fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, and the G17 Plus party, which is geared towards economic reform, would most likely cooperate on their respective areas of interest. But their differing stances on two central issues - the union with Montenegro and delivering war crimes suspects to The Hague - could lead to disputes.

Srdjan Bogosavljevic, director of the public polling agency Strategic Marketing, expects the DSS to secure only around 60 seats, with the G17 Plus and the moderate Democratic Party, DS, sharing up to 80 seats between them in the election.

Based on a poll conducted on December 9, Bogosavljevic thinks the SRS will win as many as 75 seats. But since none of the big parties is showing any sign of willingness to enter into a coalition with the SRS, it is doubtful that the party will manage to secure the 126 seats needed to form a government.

G17 Plus and the DSS share a similar stance on economic matters, with both advocating tax cuts and further privatisation, and stressing the need to attract foreign investment. They also broadly agree on the need for reform in Serbia's justice system.

The two parties, however, place differing amounts of emphasis on economic and institutional reform.

The DSS, led by law professor Kostunica, is concerned mainly with promoting the rule of law, and senior party official Dusan Ilic told IWPR that his party's priority would be to establish order in the judiciary and police. "We will especially focus on institutions in which abuse and many scandals have been recorded, like the commercial courts," he said.

G17 Plus, on the other hand, which was formed by a group of reformers and can count amongst its members a number of internationally recognised economists, regards the economy as the most important issue.

The editor of the Belgrade-based Ekonomist magazine, Mijat Lakicevic, thinks G17 Plus and the DSS would be likely to cooperate on the most important aspects of economic reform and suggests the parties might share out ministerial posts in accordance with their particular concerns.

"I think the DSS and G17 [Plus] would continue privatisation. It is the key to reforms - everything else is less important," he told IWPR. "If the DSS and G17 were to form a government and if they were willing to share competencies, I think the reforms would mostly continue. If G17 were to take over the economic portfolios and the DSS the legal and police portfolios, I think that could be a good combination."

But while the two parties are largely in agreement on these key points, they strongly disagree on certain other issues - cooperation with the international war crimes court being particularly contentious. G17 Plus insists that Belgrade should meet its obligations to The Hague. "There'll be no calculations here. If we have undertaken these obligations, we will certainly meet them with a more intense diplomatic initiative," said its deputy leader Goran Paunovic.

The DSS has in the past voiced objections to the Hague court, although it has recently toned down its opposition. Ilic has said the DSS is prepared to work on the basis of the current legislation on cooperation with the tribunal. Sources close to the party have told IWPR that it might seek a deal whereby individuals indicted before the law was passed in 2002 would be extradited, and the rest tried in Serbian courts.

The future of Serbia's union with Montenegro is also a source of disagreement. Kostunica sees the state union in a positive light, arguing that Serbs and Montenegrins have strong ties and a common history, and suggesting that Montenegrin secession could further encourage Kosovo to seek autonomy - something he firmly opposes.

G17 members, on the other hand, say the union with Montenegro is hindering Serbian integration into the European Union. Harmonising the two republics' tax, customs and other regulations would, they argue, be to Serbia's disadvantage.

In any dispute within the cabinet on controversial issues such as these, the balance of power is likely to rest with the smaller parties that would need to be brought into the coalition to secure enough seats to form a government.

Possible partners include the Together for Tolerance coalition which consists of minority parties such as the Bosnian Muslim Sandzak Democratic Party, Jozsef Kasza's Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians and Nenad Canak's League of Vojvodina Social Democrats. The pro-monarchist alliance Together for Serbia, comprising Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia party are also potential contenders.

Analysts predict that both these coalitions could pass the five per cent election threshold needed to win seats in the new parliament

The SPO and the various minority parties all advocate cooperation with the tribunal. But they all side with Kostunica in insisting Montenegro should remain unified with Serbia.

Finally, there remains an outside possibility that the ruling coalition could end up including the Democratic Party, DS. At the moment this seems unlikely since the DSS - which views the DS as a longstanding rival and adversary - has to date ruled out any talk of cooperation.

But analysts in Belgrade say the DSS-G17 Plus governing pact that is now shaping up could find itself inviting the DS in - under pressure from the international community, which was supportive of the latter's reform plans while it was in government as part of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition.

What would make this deal more palatable to the DSS leaders is the fact that DS head Boris Tadic might just be someone they could work with. Tadic, currently defence minister of Serbia and Montenegro, has not been personally damaged by the corruption scandals that have tarnished his party and the government as a whole in recent months. Nor, say analysts, has he been involved in public clashes with either the DSS or G17 Plus.

Daniel Sunter is an IWPR assistant editor in Belgrade.