Serbia’s?recent presidential election failed to muster enough votes to be valid.  Only 46 percent of voters cast ballots in the run-off between current Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and his rival, Miroljub Labus.  Kostunica beat Labus by a two-to-one margin, but, without the minimum turnout of 50 percent, the outcome was void.

What happens next is uncertain.  In theory, the whole procedure should be repeated within 60 days, according to legislation inherited from Milosevic’s time.  In practice, however, there may be difficulties.  If voters could not be motivated to turn out sufficient numbers for the first runoff, there is no reason to believe that things will be different in late December.  The full extent of Serbia’s economic misery and collective depression will be more painfully felt under the leaden winter sky, deepening the sense of alienation from politics, and the futility of its proceedings, so keenly felt by most Serbs.

On the other hand, if the 50-percent requirement introduced by Milosevic is to be removed, it will be necessary to draft the necessary legislation and bring it before the Serbian parliament within days.  The majority in the assembly, however, is controlled by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and his allies in a dozen
microscopic parties.  That control was enhanced by Djindjic’s expulsion of depxuties belonging to Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) on a spurious pretext—a move that even Djindjic’s foreign backers find hard to defend.  If Kostunica is reinstalled as president, he is certain to call a new parliamentary election.  Since Djindjic and his allies would fare badly at the polls, they are not likely to do anything that would place Kostunica in a position to dissolve parliament.

An ongoing power vacuum at the top suits Djindjic and his allies, enabling them to continue running the government by default.  Djindjic’s ploy was evident in his Democratic Party’s (DS) quiet sabotage of the second round of voting.  He may come under some pressure from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored the elections and said that the law should be repealed.  Such pressure would never be effective, however, unless Djindjic were given some guarantee that he would retain a position of power and influence.  Western diplomats in Belgrade point out that, regardless of the outcome of a future parliamentary election, Djindjic’s DS will likely remain the only coalition partner for Kostunica’s DSS: “The alternative is to make a deal with Seselj’s Radicals or Milosevic’s Socialists, and Kostunica knows that he cannot even contemplate such a move without losing what little Western support and credibility he still enjoys.”

Another failed election would further erode Kostunica’s credibility and effectively leave him without a job: The post of the federal head of state will become purely ceremonial, and subject to rotation every six months, once the new constitutional platform regulating relations between Serbia and Montenegro is enacted.  If there is another electoral flop, Djindjic could resort to another constitutional trick inherited from Milosevic: He could install the temporary speaker of Serbia’s parliament—a nondescript woman from one of the mini-parties allied with him—as acting president of Serbia for a period of up to one year, while the new legislation is being drafted and debated.

For a cynic such as Djindjic, devoid of moral scruples, the possibility of extending his rule over Serbia for a year may prove irresistible, especially if his long-suffering subjects remain apathetic.  But, as we saw in the streets of Belgrade two years ago, Serbian apathy may easily turn into rage.