The just-concluded republic elections in Serbia have confirmed the domination of democratic forces, the absolute ruin of some parties, the profiling of the right, and the predicted problem of an insufficient relevant opposition in Parliament.
DOS consolidates position in the Republic of Serbia
Winning 176 of the 250 mandates in the Skupština (assembly) of the Republic of Serbia is cause enough for celebration at the headquarters of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). Their name already evokes a mild irony since after the New Year this "opposition" will hold all levers of power in Serbia firmly in its own hands.
Even though the results show that DOS received ten percent less than in the September elections, it is sufficient for DOS to consolidate itself on the republican level. The two-thirds majority DOS won in the Serbian Parliament means a stable government; for the international community, it confirms that the September results were no accident; and for the citizens of Serbia, it promises a start towards reform, higher standards of governance and normalization of life.
However, the consequences of the Slobodan Milošević's 13-year rule are so destructive that the change in the voters will mean, first and foremost, a readiness by the citizens of Serbia to several more years consumed with repairing what has been destroyed. What lies ahead for Serbia is not a short order to fill.
Troubled times ahead
Because of the collapse of the electrical energy system in Serbia, there are restrictions on Sundays; the economy is almost destroyed; hospitals are neglected; pharmacies are empty; the government is bankrupt; there are threats of social unrest; every part of the state apparatus needs repair; criminals and corruption must be destroyed; and society must heal from the serious illnesses it was inflicted with during authoritarian times.
These are the challenges the new government must face, but whether it will succeed in responding to them is difficult to predict. Many pre-election promises were made in this context, but only time will tell whether citizens have the patience to wait long enough for the reforms to kick in.
Vuk Drašković's Serbian Movement for Renewal experienced a total catastrophe in the parliamentary elections.This party no longer has any delegates in the Serbian Parliament, and only one delegate in the Veče (council) of the Republic Skupština of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRJ). That sole person is now defending his party's status as a parliamentary party. Drašković's capriciousness indirectly convinced him that not joining up with Goran Đinđić—new premier of the Serbian parliament—was the correct decision.
This sort of frivolity cost the Serbian Movement for Renewal its future and almost no one in Serbia is complaining. The Socialists, with Milošević at the helm, fell below 14 percent, and Vojislav Šešelj's Serbian Radical party also noted a drastic fall (to about 8.5 percent).
The followers of Arkan provided the election surprise when the party that he formed—the Party of Serbian Unity—broke through the election threshold and won 14 mandates.
The election rules, with a high threshold of five percent and one electoral unit, were an insurmountable obstacle to all of the smaller parties and created a paradox whereby only a few votes could decide whether a party has 13 delegates or not a single one. In other words, the election regulations made it possible that a group of delegates from one list receive no less than 13 delegates.
The Party of Serbian Unity conducted a serious campaign utilising the private television stations that are owned by several of its key-members. Although the party is visibly right-wing, people regard it as an alliance of the sportsmen who make up most of its directing organs.
Perhaps this explains the party's current success, but whether that success is a secondary, surprising, temporary effect, or whether it speaks to the profiling of the true right-wing of the political scene in Serbia, will be confirmed by future elections which will be announced by the leaders of the DOS.
The political picture of the Serbian Parliament is such that the DOS has a two-thirds majority, while the remaining parties have 74 seats. The problem now is clear: fundamentally, it is the disappearance of a real opposition force in the Serbian Parliament.
If a definitively true parliamentary system and democratic pluralism is to be maintained without the existence of an opposition as an institution, the continuation of the transition to democracy could be brought into question.
The proverbial Serbian inclination to authoritarianism, which is not without historical basis or tradition, threatens more serious actions by DOS insofar as this political grouping does not seriously change from within. In other words, insofar as the internal democracy of the parties that make up DOS do not get stronger.
Past practice shows that there is no guarantee that any party will be a positive example for the establishment of the democratic idea. If alone DOS does not respect a minimum level of democratic procedure, or if its leader takes a decision that by statute he cannot take, which concerns not only decisions upon exiting an election, but rather decisions concerning cadre politics.
The problem is big enough to excuse working in the interests of the party. Thus, authoritarian management is, by this way of thinking, in the interest of a potentially democratic party.
Society and the state need a democratic opposition just like they need a democratic government, since only the simultaneous existence of both institutions can guarantee that the prerequisites are met for the existence of a democracy.
The new government has not fully distanced itself from the methods of the old regime, such that certain friends and relatives of DOS leaders have found themselves in state and other official functions. Because of the scandals of the old regime, citizens still do not concern themselves with this problem.
Even while the courts are dealing with the former functionaries, citizens will quickly tire of hearing that the Socialists are the only bad guys. The press, insofar as it maintains a level of professionalism, will certainly address this theme.
Birth of democracy
Even though the labor pains of the birth of democracy in Serbia are still great, with certainty we can now speak of a full about-face and the absolute impossibility of things returning to their previous condition. In the near future, the DOS government will certainly undergo sharp criticism from public opinion and the voters.
Most likely, in the next elections the union of parties of the present government will pass into history, but the role of the DOS will surely be one of historic importance. It was this political grouping which channeled the will of the citizenry and succeeded in eliminating, and making marginal the hitherto dominant retrograde, authoritarian and totalitarian political forces in Serbia.
Thus, the DOS successfully played its role, but Serbia and its citizens cannot be satisfied with that. The process of democratization is moving forward towards a modern democracy and many people and parties who do not see a common interest in this process will be left by the wayside.
Slavko Živanov, 8 January 2001
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