February 15, 1997 Vreme News Digest Agency No 280

Post-Election Fever

What Now?

by Milan Milosevic

Slobodan Jovanovic described Serbia after the Berlin congress of 1878 and wrote that the small Serbia at the time faced a "task both easy and difficult"; setting up European institutions. The rebellion of 1996/97 by the people of Serbia is that kind of challenge

The political crisis in Serbia slowly approached the end of act one last week with a scene that could be described as "the great cover-up". The Serbian parliament managed to adopt the lex specialis, President Slobodan Milosevic’s special law reinstates the opposition victory in most of Serbia’s cities with a cover-up and deception that they weren’t really caught committing election fraud and that they’re not caving in to the rebellion but because they need money from the international community.

Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic was obviously combating reality when he told his silent parliamentary majority, upset by speculation of who was going to survive, that "the scenes from the streets of Belgrade, directed by known media manipulators spread the impression of political instability in Serbia which caused damage to the country’s reputation in the world". That reputation is going to be improved by Radmila Milentijevic, just like she did in her action against Milan Panic in 1992.

Marjanovic thanked the seven ministers who were dismissed (they include Education Minister Dragoslav Mladenovic, whose students and teachers are protesting and striking but not Justice Minister Arandjel Markicevic, who the opposition says is to blame for the election scandal or police minister Zoran Sokolovic, who is being asked to justify the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrations).

In other words, the authorities didn’t have the strength to cut through the crisis by launching an honest investigation, amputating the compromised members of the ruling elite and winning the moral credit needed for a consensus to really launch reforms. The authorities chose to cover up their embarrassment.

The reconstruction of the Serbian government shows that a kind of temporary government has been formed with concessions to JUL in expectation of something.

FRY President Zoran Lilic started its consultations on a new federal government last week. The Zajedno coalition didn’t take part in those consultations since its parliament seats haven’t been verified in protest over the election fraud.

Under an earlier agreement, the mandate to form a new federal government should go to Serbia. The Serbian authorities didn’t name anyone for the post which is potentially as powerful as the post of chancellor in Germany and which could be interesting to Slobodan Milosevic. The fact that there have been constant rumors of Milosevic taking over Lilic’s weak post and not Kontic’s constitutionally powerful and operationally interesting post should perhaps be interpreted as a drop in Milosevic’s ratings in the west. A western president caught in election fraud would face impeachment and international isolation. Whoever launched the rumors of Milosevic replacing Lilic is perhaps discreetly showing a way out. An attempt at a third mandate as Serbian president would open Milosevic to another election scandal since article 86 of the Serbian constitutions says: "The same person can be elected president of the republic twice at the most". He has been elected twice in 1990 and 1992.

Lilic’s mandate expires in June. Richard Holbrooke and Warren Zimmerman, two Americans who had great influence on Balkan politics, allegedly mentioned that month in two private discussion of Milosevic.

By June the purge in the SPS should be complete perhaps under the name of party elections or under the pretext of bringing in younger people.

The SPS won a big slice of power in the November elections for the federal parliament, it also gave a big piece to JUL and the top ranks of the authorities certainly won’t allow the dissolving of the Yugoslav parliament over failure to appoint a new prime minister within three months. Those three months started the moment the procedure to elect a new government was launched. A federal government has to be formed as soon as possible out of financial reasons.

The opposition is fairly certain that Milosevic won’t launch a serious privatization plan because the republican elections are fairly close and because privatization would undermine the foundations of his power and chase away his voters. Opposition politicians believe that the announcements of privatization and reforms just show that the authorities intend to sell parts of the economy’s big systems or sell concessions to get the money they need to continue their rule. Opposition leaders are telling their supporters, with good effect, that Milosevic’s statement that no foreign hand will rule Serbia just means he wants to be the only one to count the money. They’re saying that the authorities intend to profit personally in sales of big systems and they’re demanding a stop to that privatization because of suspicion that it is turning into robbery. The opposition is continuing its protests until it’s sure that there won’t be any new tricks in implementing the special law and is trying to consolidate the authorities it has formed in some towns by meeting complicated inter-party deals. There are rumors of tension over the top posts in the Belgrade city assembly and there have been nervous words. Zajedno is slowly learning that democracy is actually the constant resolving of conflicts, that a solution is always possible if you think about the common good and it seems its followers are slowly getting used to all that.

In that wrestling among the opposition lies one good thing; power isn’t in the hand of only one party, but two or three which have to watch out for their opponents and their partners. In Nis, opposition leaders and councilors took one far reaching step; they introduced the positive precedent of every official publicly stating what he or she owns.

When they have authority in Serbia’s towns and cities, Zajedno’s domination in the republic’s development centers, despite its comparatively small powers, will become an important element of future events in Serbia. Perhaps it will even be the trump card. And that’s how things will be until the next republican elections.

As things are now, the demands (important for the normalization of political conditions and the holding of normal elections) like the one on freeing the state media or responsibility for election fraud, or the independence of the judiciary or control over the police or preventing corruption are on the table in the ever increasing pile. The opposition will have to force the authorities to meet those demands in negotiations which have to come.