From Tue Dec 30 07:15:07 2003
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2003 14:47:26 -0600 (CST)
From: “Michael Givel” <>
Subject: [progchat_action] Serb Ultra-Rightists Are Big Winners
Article: 171037
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

BBC News

Serb Rightists Are Big Winners, but Not Big Enough to Rule

By Nicholas Wood, New York Times, 29 December 2003

ELGRADE, Serbia, Dec. 28—Serbia's road to economic and political reform looked much longer on Sunday night, as ultranationalists appeared to have won the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections here.

Early results showed that the party of Vojislav Seselj, who is currently on trial for war crimes at the international criminal tribunal in The Hague, had won the largest number of seats in the 250-member assembly.

A sample of more than 54 percent of votes cast, taken by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, an independent polling organization, showed that Mr. Seselj's Radical Party had won 27.5 percent. The Serbian Democratic Party, led by the former Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, trailed with 17.4 percent.

Four parties each placed a person indicted by the Hague tribunal on their electoral lists and two appear to have been elected: Mr. Seselj and the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. Because they are in custody in The Hague, they will be unable to take office. With too few seats to govern alone, the Radical Party would have to form a coalition in order to create a government. Commentators said that development was highly unlikely because no other parties appeared willing to join with the ultranationalists. That leaves the opportunity for former members of the departing governing coalition to form a new administration.

Mr. Kostunica, whose party left the current government more than a year and half ago, was said to be the favorite to lead a new administration, along with their electoral allies the pro-reformist party G17 Plus.

Before the polls closed, Mr. Kostunica had predicted his party would play “a major role” in a new government despite the Radical Party's widely expected strong showing. He said he would help “speed up our European integration and the European future of Serbia.”

But experts said Mr. Kostunica would need the support of two other parties to form a majority in Parliament. That, together with the nationalists' strength, means that any radical reform program would be difficult to carry out.

Throughout much of the 1990's, the Radical Party was allied to Mr. Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party, and actively supported plans for a greater Serbia.

Mr. Seselj is accused of leading his own group of militiamen and being a proponent of the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs in neighboring Bosnia and Croatia. The party still believes in expanding Serbia beyond its current borders to incorporate other ethnic Serbs in the region, although no longer by force.

The Radical Party's strong performance reflects a trend across the region.

Hard-line nationalists who led their countries during the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 have now returned to power in Bosnia after elections in 2002, and most recently in Croatia, where the party of the former Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, has formed a government.

The Parliament elected Sunday brings an end to a three-year coalition administration that came to power after the downfall of Mr. Milosevic. It had promised reforms similar to those seen throughout much of Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism in 1989—including privatizations, legal reforms allowing greater foreign investments and the dismantling of old Communist bureaucracies—which in turn opened the way for many of those countries to join the European Union. Instead the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or D.O.S., as the coalition was called, failed to galvanize itself into an effective force for change, giving many voters the impression that valuable time had been squandered.

“If anything it was a miracle that the government lasted three years,” said Bratislav Grubacic, the editor of the VIP Daily News Service, a political newsletter in Belgrade, adding that the coalition was formed solely to oust Mr. Milosevic.

The former prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, was widely credited with keeping the government together, by a mixture of patronage and the twisting of parliamentary rules. His assassination by members of a special police unit last March stalled the reform process and saw the government quickly unravel, prompting his successor, Zoran Zivkovic, to call new parliamentary elections last October.

One of the government's first challenges will be to cooperate with The Hague tribunal. Failure to do so could mean loss of valuable aid from the European Union and the United States.

The departing administration had refused to hand over four police and army generals indicted by the tribunal in October. They were accused of committing war crimes in Kosovo. The arrest warrants announced by the court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, became a major issue during the election campaign, and politicians here said it contributed to the nationalists' victory.

The poor state of the Serbian economy is perhaps the issue that most affects many people's lives, with unemployment estimated to be close to 30 percent when judged by criteria used in most of Western Europe. (The Serbian government puts unemployment at 13 per cent.) But the issue of economic reform was pushed into second place as debate over The Hague dominated the campaign.

Unresolved questions over Serbia's future have also enabled the extreme right to dictate political debate, Mr. Grubacic said.

The once Serbian-controlled province of Kosovo remains under United Nations administration, with final status nowhere near resolution. Montenegro, which is now in a loose federation with Serbia, may break away and form an independent state next year. “The populist and radical right still play the tune,” he said.

He blamed pro-reformist politicians for failing to confront Serbs with the dire economic reality facing the country. “Nobody has told the population that we lost the war and the consequences are as follows,” he said.

Ultra-nationalists top Serb poll

29/12/2003—A party led by an indicted war crimes suspect has won the most votes in Serbia's election, early results show. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) is set to be the strongest single force, but three pro-democracy groups are likely to form a coalition to take power. SRS leader Vojislav Seselj is awaiting trial at the UN tribunal in The Hague. Another accused war criminal, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, may win a seat after the vote, seen as a test for Serbia's young democracy. Preliminary results showed the SRS to have won a little more than a quarter of the popular vote, but it is set to take about one-third of the parliamentary seats. That would allow it to block reforms and changes to the c cstitution.

The party's deputy leader, Tomislav Nikolic, toasted the success with champagne and dedicated it to those awaiting trial at the United Nations tribunal for crimes allegedly committed during the wars that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia. He said the win was also “for the citizens of Serbia who have had enough of humiliation, who want jobs, peace and security, who want to raise their children in a patriotic spirit, and who want a well-rounded state which will not rob anyone of anything but will not give anything to anyone either”. Mr Nikolic seemed to accept that the SRS would not form a government, telling supporters it was most important for the party to reach the threshold where they could prevent changes. Independent monitors at Serbia's Centre for Free Election and Democracy predicted that the SRS would fall just short of the 84 seats needed to stymie constitutional changes proposed in the 250-member parliament. But support from like-minded parties would enable them to stop reformers getting a two-thirds majority, correspondents said. One of those supporters could be Mr Milosevic, who as the top name on the electoral list of the Socialist Party would usually be expected to take up a seat if the party won more than 5% of the vote. A party official, Ivica Dacic, said: “Technically speaking Milosevic can be a deputy, but our party is yet to decide who is going to take up the seats.”

Trouble for reformists The turnout of just over 59% or 3.8 million voters, according to the monitors, would be the highest since Mr Milosevic was defeated in 2000. It may indicate that opponents of the ultra-nationalists voted in greater numbers than expected. The BBC's Matthew Price in Belgrade says the result was the one the international community expected and feared in equal measure. He says it will be deeply troubling and embarrassing for Serbia's reformists, even if the second, third and fourth-placed parties do form a pro-democracy, pro-Western government. The second most popular party, according to polls, is the Democratic Party of Serbia led by Vojislav Kostunica, who replaced Mr Milosevic as Yugoslav president in 2000. Mr Kostunica has been at odds with supporters of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in March, since soon after Mr Milosevic's overthrow. But Mr Kostunica said as he cast his ballot that he expected the elections to bring political calm to Serbia. Djindjic's Democratic Party appears to have improved its pre-election standing slightly to come in third place. The surge in support for the ultra-nationalist SRS is being blamed on the poor state of the Serbian economy. The party is promising to improve wages and pensions, and to cut the cost of living—all popular policies with an impoverished electorate.

Predicted results Serbian Radical Party—27.7% of vote; 82 seats Democratic Party of Serbia—18.0%; 53 seats Democratic Party - 12.6%; 37 seats G-17 Plus—11.7%; 34 seats Serbian Renewal Movement-New Serbia—7.7%; 23 seats Socialist Party of Serbia - 7.4%; 21 seats Source: Centre for Free Election and Democracy, margin of error 0.4%