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

Serbia: Shaky Government Truce

Government infighting has ended for now, but the possibility of early elections remains.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The quarrelling parties in the Serbian government have decided to bury the hatchet after a month of confrontations and mud-slinging, but the truce is not thought likely to last.

At a May 26 meeting chaired by Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, politicians agreed to stop their high profile squabbling - which was played out in Serbia's media - and get down to the serious business of carrying out vital reforms.

Zivkovic said at the meeting's end that it had now been agreed that "no member of the government is involved in any sort of criminal activities”.

It spells the end of more than a month of tit-for-tat allegations in which government figures accused each other of dealing with underworld figures, including the Zemun crime gang believed to be responsible for the March 12 assassination of Zoran Djindjic.

However, the truce may prove short-lived, as Justice Minister Vladan Batic suddenly announced at a press conference two days later that his Demo-Christian Party of Serbia, DHPS, would no longer attend meetings of the ruling coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, in protest at parliament's refusal to take a stand on his initiative for an independent Serbian state.

Continued clashes may have led to the public urging the authorities to conduct a serious investigation into alleged mafia connections, putting the reputations of certain ministers at risk - and consequently threatened the entire government.

And political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic pointed out that a continuation of the conflict would have inevitably led to early general elections, which would not be in the interest of the 16 DOS parties. “The ruling coalition does not enjoy wide voter support and would probably be unable to stay in power if an early ballot was called,” he said.

Recent public opinion polls indicate that the authorities are losing the extensive popular support they enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of Djindjic's murder.

According to data collected by Belgrade's Strategic Marketing organistion, the late prime minister's Democratic Party is still in the lead with 22 per cent - five per cent lower than in March of this year. Former federal president Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, is still in second place but is showing a slight rise in popularity, with 15 per cent.

The G17 Plus reformist party, which has distanced itself from the ruling coalition, has also seen a rise, to 11 per cent. Mladjan Dinkic of G17 Plus is the most popular politician for the second month running, with a 52 per cent approval rating.

In a worrying development, the number of people who said they would not vote at all - or said they were "undecided" - is growing steadily and now exceeds 34 per cent.

These figures would suggest that the Democratic Party could be in serious trouble if elections were called - and that some smaller parties may disappear from the political scene altogether.

Parliamentary Speaker Dragoljub Micunovic recently admitted that the possibility of early elections posed the greatest threat to DOS's stability, as it might force smaller parties to think of their own survival rather than the interests of the government. “The parties immediately try to act in their own best interests and that causes tension,” he said.

The truce was also brought about by increasing pressure from the international community within Serbia - particularly diplomatic figures from the United States - who believe that only stable Serbian government can carry out necessary reforms by the end of its 2004 term.

According to a diplomatic source, the US believes that the early election threat is the main reason why many smaller parties might ally themselves with Kostunica - whose nationalist stance is making him unpopular in Washington.

Another destabilising factor is the "Business Club" – the name given by some foreigners to the group of radical Democratic Party politicians.

Analysts believe that in order to maintain the present truce and hold off the threat of early elections, Zivkovic must work hard to the limit the influence of this group, which is believed to be sowing distrust among the smaller parties. If he fails to do so, further conflict and an early ballot may be inevitable.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor.