Serbian Transition Hindered

A decision by DOS to include Milosevic loyalists in Serbia's transitional government may stymie the work of the new administration.

Serbian Transition Hindered

A decision by DOS to include Milosevic loyalists in Serbia's transitional government may stymie the work of the new administration.

Despite their resounding defeats in federal and local elections, Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, continues to wield considerable political influence.

The SPS has been allowed to share power with the victorious Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, in the newly formed republican transitional government. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO, which also did badly in the September poll, has also been included in the new administration.

Serbian elections scheduled for December 23 are expected to seal the DOS victory, but the alliance felt that until then a power-sharing arrangement was necessary to fill the political vacuum left by Milosevic's departure.

However, in the run-up to the December poll, the SPS and the SPO may well be tempted to regain some lost ground by obstructing the work of the new administration.

All ministries within the republican government, which was formed last week, now have three ministers, one from each of DOS, the SPS and the SPO, with decisions to be reached by consensus.

"The government is called transitional because everyone will try to cross each other," said a cynical Milan Milutinovic, Serbian president and SPS deputy-leader. The transitional prime minister, Milomir Minic, is also a senior SPS official.

The SPS and Draskovic are desperately in need of time. Both will use the eight weeks remaining before election day to consolidate their battered parties, make personnel changes and prepare a campaign. All will be looking for weak spots in the DOS armour, especially unfulfilled promises.

The fiercest contests will be fought within the four key ministries - finance, energy, police and information.

And they will have to work quickly to address Serbia's chronic problems. Prices have spiralled out of control, the media is in chaos, people lack gas, electricity, heating fuel, medicines and industry suffers from acute underinvestment.

To buy in the necessary electricity supplies the Central Bank must approve the hard currency for the imports, but it is a federal institution and the Yugoslav government has yet to be constituted.

Once the hard currency is approved, the Electricity Company of Serbia, EPS, a state-owned company whose board of directors is dominated by SPS appointees, must choose the importer. That decision needs to be approved by the Serbian energy ministry, by three rival ministers.

The EPS has yet to select a supplier. During the Milosevic era, EPS directors made several deals which proved inadequate for the country's needs, but furnished them with tidy personal profits. These men are still in office and have so far shown no sign of adjusting to the new political climate.

Although it cannot be said with certainty the SPS is deliberately obstructing decisions, some SPS loyalists are themselves warning of prolonged problems. A sacked SPS director from Nis said, "There are too many SPS officials around for things to go smoothly." He described them as "wounded lions" and warned that every delay in decsion-making "is to their advantage".

But the SPS are treading a dangerous course. One whiff among the electorate of such spoiling tactics and they could be politically obliterated in December.

The SPO also has much to gain from any discomfort felt by DOS. To survive and ensure Draskovic another few years of political life, the SPO could opt to lend the SPS a hand in any obstructionist plans it may have.

The Socialists have already started a process of internal reorganisation. Milosevic is no longer visible as the political mover and shaker, and senior officials have announced the dismissal of top party leaders ahead of the upcoming SPS congress.

The DOS, meanwhile, comprises 18 parties - a recipe for political squabbles over allocations of ministerial posts and government offices in any future administration and parliament. The SPS will pounce on any sign of such internal division. And after all, the party still enjoys the support of a third of the electorate.

What both the SPS and SPO must do before the December poll is erase all traces of corruption and wrong-doing. The transitional government, with its inbuilt inability to come to any decision, provides an ideal mechanism for achieving this.

The Serbian judiciary remains unreformed and incapable of dealing with the badly needed investigations into the abuses perpetrated by the previous government. In the meantime, bank and industry bosses can dispose of any compromising material before the SPS regime is finally rooted out.

Although no longer in complete control, the SPS have won time to consolidate their position, while preventing the DOS from instituting any meaningful decisions.

In December some people will still vote SPS, while others will conclude DOS is incapable of taking over government and needs to share power. The price for DOS of co-operating with Milosevic and Draskovic in this transitional period is very high, because they risk further dissipating the vital energy of the October days ahead of the crucial republican elections.

It is extremely unlikely DOS will lose in December - a recent poll in the Belgrade daily Blic put DOS on 61 per cent - but the SPS has been allowed to catch its breath and remains part of the game, just as many hoped.

Srdjan Staletovic is a regular IWPR contributor.

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