SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — Political parties that appear to be in sync with the European Union were victorious as Serbia held its first parliamentary elections under the country’s new constitution on Jan. 21, ahead of an important decision on the fate of the province of Kosovo.
But the victory was slim in a way that seemed to confirm an old adage that there are two Serbias: One a democratic, urban, European Serbia; the other a nationalistic, rural and insulated Serbia.
While political parties aligned with the former prevailed, the formation of an actual government may now be complicated by the looming decision on the final status of Kosovo. Maarti Ahtisaari, the U.N. Special Representative to Kosovo status talks, is expected to recommend some form of independence for Kosovo when he issues his preliminary report on the matter over the coming days or weeks. This decision had initially been slated for late 2006 but was postponed to accommodate the timetable of Serbia’s elections.
It may now be put off until the new Serbian government is conclusively formed, as there is concern among international observers that any seriously pro-European Union reform government could falter should such a recommendation be made prematurely. Some actually fear that too early a push toward independence for Kosovo by the United Nations could backfire, resulting in a call for a re-vote in Serbia’s parliamentary elections and ultimately the return of nationalist majority. If such a meltdown were to unfold, the nationalists would most certainly then look to neighboring Bosnia and the Serb entity there – the Republic Srpska – and demand that it too be given the right to secede as a means of “compensating” Serbia for the loss of Kosovo.
As the results to the Jan. 21 parliamentary election stand now, with 90 percent of the vote counted, parties aligned around the so-called democratic block – the Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Serbia, G17 Plus, Liberal Democratic Party – won 51.7 percent of the vote. Parties aligned around the so-called black/red block – the Serbian Radical Party, whose president is on trial for war crimes in the Hague, and the Socialist Party of Serbia, whose president died while on trial for war crimes – won 34.6 percent of vote.
The Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic emerged as the dominant pro-EU reform party, increasing its share of the vote to 22.9 percent, compared with the just 12.7 percent the party got in the last parliamentary election held in 2003.
The results present something of a setback for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, which forged an electoral pact with New Serbia (NS), a small centrist party. The combined DSS-NS vote was just 16.7 percent compared with the 25.5 percent the two parties got in 2003.
Under the new Serbian constitution, the new Parliament needs to be formed 30 days after the results are certified (Feb. 25), and the new government needs to be formed 90 days afterwards or by May 25. Otherwise, the Parliament will be disbanded and new elections would be held.
Damir Cosic is based in Sarajevo. Click here for his previous articles in World Politics Review.