Serbian Election: Socialists, the Unexpected Kingmakers

Srdja TrifkovicLast Sunday night, as the results of Serbia’s parliamentary elections became known, the country’s President Boris Tadić made a remarkable statement. “I warn the parties that have lost this election,” he declared, “not to play games with the will of the citizens and try to form a government that would take Serbia back to the 1990s. I will not allow any such government and I will prevent it by democratic means.” This was not just an ill-considered gaffe in the heat of the election night: on Wednesday he was at it again, criticizing attempts by his political opponents to form the government and pledging to “defend the will of the people with all democratic and legitimate means.”

The implications of Mr. Tadić’s statement are clear, and alarming:

  1. There exists a “will of the citizens” (or “people”) that is distinct to, and in this case different from that expressed in the distribution of mandates in the National Assembly;
  2. The “losers”—by which he means the outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Radicals (SRS)—would plunge Serbia into wars and isolation (“back to the 1990s”).
  3. It is within Tadić’s power as head of state to prevent the emergence of a coalition government not to his liking, even if such a coalition were to be supported by the majority of parliamentary deputies.

Tadić’s first claim harks back to Rousseau’s volonté générale that properly guides the decisions of a civil society, rather than the sum of their individual self-interests, the volonté de tous. His assertion is in line with the postmodern USA-EU understanding of “democracy,” which judges a process democratic entirely on the basis of the “rightness” of its outcome. His European and American mentors have long used the term “democracy” as an ideological concept. It does not signify broad participation of informed citizens in the business of governance, but it denotes the desirable social and political content of ostensibly popular decisions. The process likely to produce undesirable outcomes—a sovereignist coalition government in Belgrade, say, or a “no” vote in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty—is a priori “undemocratic.” Contrary to his frankly outrageous claim, the common good is an aggregate of private interests which needs balancing and fine-tuning through the institutions of representative democracy. After such outbursts it is ridiculous to misrepresent Tadić as a “pro-Western democrat,” although he is certain to be thus described in a thousand MSM reports that are yet to be written.

Tadić’s Democratic Party (DS) did well at the election, considerably better than expected, but it did not “win.” With 102 deputies in the 250-seat assembly, the Democrats will be 24 seats short of the working majority. Even with the like-minded Liberal Democratic Party of Čedomir Jovanović (14 deputies) and a couple of small ethnic minority parties (Hungarians, Sanjak Muslims), the DS cannot reach the magic number.

The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), with 20 deputies, is now the decisive factor in the equation, certain to decide the shape of the next ruling coalition. It will likely join forces with Koštunica’s DSS (30 deputies) and the Radicals (78) to create a government with a slim but workable majority. Its leader Ivica Dačić may yet be tempted by the DS, which is certain to make him a generous offer, but his party leadership has warned him that any such deal would split the party. It still includes numerous Milošević loyalists who have not forgiven the Democrats—then led by the late prime minister Zoran Djindjić—the delivery of their leader to The Hague in 2001.

An agreement is already said to be in place between Dačić, Koštunica and the SRS to share power in the city of Belgrade, with the Radicals’ No. 3, Aleksandar Vučić, becoming the new Mayor. The speed and ease with which the deal was struck on the country’s second most important government structure—with its many rich pickings—bodes ill for Tadić’s hopes that the SPS may yet be swayed his way.

The pro-Western camp is nevertheless trying hard. After almost a decade of relentless political and media campaign by the DS and its allies against the SPS, after years of public demonization of its late leader, the “Euro-reformist forces” have suddenly discovered that the Socialists are eminently salonfaehig. Tadić is now declaring that there are practically no ideological differences between the heirs to Milošević and his own followers, as they are both true to the principles of the Socialist International. Yet less than two years ago, when this same Socialist Party—under the same leader and with the same program—supported Koštunica’s minority goverrnment, it was pilloried by the Euro-reformers as a dark and temporary remnant of Serbia’s unpleasant past.

Even if he manages to cobble together yet another coalition with himself at the helm, the biggest loser of the election is my old friend Vojislav Koštunica. He is a well-meaning man of principle, as we all know, and his decision on March 8 to “return the mandate to the people” may have been the honorable thing to do—but in the midst of the Kosovo crisis it was neither prudent nor conducive to the country’s best interests. Within the previous parliament, elected on January 21 2007, a “sovereignist” majority could have been created with far greater ease than today. Dr. Koštunica is now paying the price of his reluctance to part ways with the Eurofanatics and strike a solid deal with the Radicals a year ago, as many of his friends and supporters had urged him to do at the time and as it was certainly in his power to do.

Serbia is now more polarized and more evenly divided, but it is nevertheless far from having an “Euro-reformist” majority, as Mr. Tadić and his allies would have us believe. His DS-led coalition and the LDP, let us repeat, have 116 deputies. That is well below the score for the SRS-DSS-led emerging alliance, which is likely to stand firm on the defense of Serbia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and international legality.

After almost 8 years in the wilderness the Socialists are Belgrade’s unexpected kingmakers. It is to be hoped that by doing the right thing now they will atone for at least some of the many mistakes and misdemeanors of which they were guilty while running Serbia under Milošević. It is also to be hoped that Mr. Tadić will respect his constitutional prerogatives and accordingly refrain from any attempt to resist the will of the people, as expressed by their democratically elected deputies.

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