Neither Stability, Nor Elections

The Pact for Stability of Serbia is slipping off the agenda, the opposition parties are moving apart again, and the Group of 17 'experts' is scaling down their once ambitious plans. It all suits Slobodan Milosevic.

Neither Stability, Nor Elections

The Pact for Stability of Serbia is slipping off the agenda, the opposition parties are moving apart again, and the Group of 17 'experts' is scaling down their once ambitious plans. It all suits Slobodan Milosevic.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Things are not looking good for the Pact for Stability of Serbia. 'The Group of 17' leading Serb economists tabled the grand plan for an interim government to see Slobodan Milosevic out of power and the country back into the world community.

But though most of the opposition parties welcomed the end, they declined to support the means. And Vuk Draskovic, the best known of the party leaders who have come out against Milosevic in the past, has turned firmly against the G-17, barring its TV adverts from Studio B, the TV station his party now controls.

The G-17 met in Belgrade on September 9 to discuss options. Outside the Dom Sindikata meeting hall, 2,000 people watched a video link to the debate.

They merely whistled at mentions of Milosevic's name, a weary response in contrast with the heady days of summer, when tens of thousands packed the streets and both G-17 and the opposition were riding a wave of post-Kosovo public anger.

Originally supported by several groups, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, the G-17 proposed the forming of a transitional government made up of experts to halt Serbia's slide, aiming for parliamentary elections - with the present government membership excluded from the lists - to be held inside a year.

The opposition parties gathered under the Alliance for Changes (SZP) banner and Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) also quickly came out behind the idea.

Pact co-author economist Mladjan Dinkic said the plan was to force enough deputies from Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and its Serbian Radical Party coalition partners to back a vote of no confidence in the government of Mirko Marjanovic, clearing the way for his government of experts.

But things began to go awry. At an opposition rally on August 19, Draskovic publicly repudiated the plan and the call for early elections. One by one the pact's supporters began to distance themselves from the scheme.

Belgrade University professor Jovan Marjanovic, a former Vice President of the SPO, claims that everybody has renounced the Pact for Stability of Serbia by now, even those who were fighting to be as close to Dinkic as possible.

The G-17 say they are not surprised they were let down by the main opposition parties. "We expected that the parties would give up as soon as the first practical step was asked of them," said Predrag Markovic, another of the Pact's co-authors.

"It was a nice idea," he said, "but based on past experience, the opposition parties in Serbia do not trust each other. It's the main reason why they abandoned the pact. But they also want results fast, and the Pact deferred the chance to profit from early elections for a whole year."

Even that prospect is beginning to fade. The opposition was wrong-footed by the regime's sudden decision to agree to a snap poll just as the August 19 mass protest got underway. Unnerved by the move, the opposition took several days to catch their breath, and then confused their supporters by first rejecting the election call, then giving it a qualified 'yes', via 'maybe' - if the government freed up the media and relaxed election rules in line with OSCE recommendations.

As the opposition fragmented again, in what is now traditional style, the G-17 were left high and dry. Dinkic still has hopes however. "The pact is not dead," he said Thursday, "even if is not supported by part of the opposition." He did not mention the SPO or Draskovic, by name, but the feeling was that they were the principal cause of the collapse of support for a transitional government.

Instead, he said, the G-17 is to establish a network of experts from the present membership, tasked to provide support and advice to the opposition parties' work across the country. In the mean time the G-17 will wait to see what the rest of the opposition will do over the next two months.

Anyone on the other side from Milosevic could make use of the new 'G-17 Network' and its services. The only exception, would be "the kind of 'opposition' parties that take funding from Milosevic, and talk about freeing the media while refusing to give up control of Studio B TV," Dinkic said, again not mentioning Draskovic or the SPO by name.

He and the G-17 are putting their faith in the SZP alliance. If they still hesitate, then Dinkic said, the G-17 would do something on its own. But what, nobody will say.

The SZP will have to re-confirm its minimum demands if they are to back the early polls, even as they become more and more unlikely in the short term. Certainly there will be no all-party elections in Serbia this year, says Goran Svilanovic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia.

Presently the opposition insists that Serbia should be turned into a single electoral unit instead of 29 constituencies as now, an arrangement that presently suits large parties better able to spread their resources between the different regions.

The spread of votes has a disproportionate effect. All in all 120,000 people voted for the opposition Social Democracy party in the last elections without gaining a single seat, while other parties with half as many voters nationwide took one or two places. Similarly the SPO won 45 seats with 700,000 votes and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) 82 with 1,100,000.

Some members of the SZP, like the Christian-Democratic Party of Serbia, want a total ban on the candidacy of all those indicted by The Hague Tribunal.

But even if agreement on conditions could be reached inside two or three months, there has to be a two month campaign gap between calling the vote and casting the ballots, making it technically impossible to organise elections before spring 2000.

Milosevic is happy to wait. Opinion polls at the beginning of September indicate that at present at least, Milosevic's SPS would be lucky to collect more than 30 percent of the vote, with their traditional support shifting instead to the more extreme SRS, led by Vojislav Seselj.

And in the meantime he may entertain himself by playing cat and mouse with the opposition, constantly making contrary moves, sidestepping the SZP, buying time month by month.

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.

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