Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Boris, the Prime Minister: Election? What Election?

The elections in Serbia were finally annulled on Wednesday! No, not the election results, but the actual legitimacy of the act of free election. Boris Tadić, whose party won a mere 22 percent of the popular vote - notwithstanding the evident election fraud it was accused of perpetrating - and who personally got beat in the presidential election, will be allowed to lead the Serbian government for another, well, few months, in all likeliness. (Finally, I can put my two cents in without being worried that the Serbian news media have been duping the public with false reports, as is their ‘’professional’’ manner.)
Outside of the election fraud that no one but Dveri still talks about, there is nothing illegal about this development. All the illegal moves have already happened, and judging from Tadić's past disregard for law, will keep happening, but his candidacy for the post of the head of government is not illegal, but merely immoral and deeply offensive. Tadić's Democratic Party won 67 seats in the National Assembly and, combined with 45 seats won by Ivica Dačić's Socialists, it is a couple of promises to either Čedomir Jovanović or Mlađan Dinkić away from securing the support of a parliamentary majority, necessary to form the new cabinet. The largest party, the Progressives, is well below the 126-seat threshold in any of the coalition-building combinations. Tomislav Nikolić won the presidency, but will not exercise any significant executive power under the so-called ''cohabitation'' setup. I would love to do a real-value election outcome recap for you, since you will not get it from the regime-controlled media web of Serbia, but to what end? Nikolić will be inaugurated on Thursday before a parliament assembled as a result of the fraudulent first round of the election; he is constitutionally obligated to offer the mandate to a candidate who can win the support of a parliamentary majority and Tadić is that candidate; finally, Nikolić, unlike Tadić before him, promised to uphold the Constitution. Unless the recent series of earthquakes in Italy and Bulgaria somehow shake up Belgrade, Tadić will be appointed the Prime Minister of Serbia. I take that back: I doubt that even an earthquake can stop Tadić from grabbing the power back.
Let's dwell on Tadić. As I said, there is nothing illegal about his party maneuvering back into leading the government, but Tadić personally lost the trust of the Serbian people. The people told him on May 20 that they do not want him to lead them anymore, yet he, the unwanted, will take the power back even after decisively rejecting the idea in his concession speech on May 20. Therein lies the macro-moral failure of the Serbian political elite, epitomized by Tadić. As Nikolić pointed out several times in the post-victory interview, there is no place for a former president to go but down. But Tadić, only 54 and unaccustomed to politics outside of a position of power, decided that it is important to remain in power without regard to any political norm. George Washington defined, stabilized and ennobled the office of the U.S. president by refusing to hold it more than twice, thus setting a precedent that lasted for a century and a half. After he bowed out, he went back to managing his Mt. Vernon plantation. Serbia, desperately needing any sort of stabilization of political institutions, had to suffer through Boris Tadić, the opposite of Washington, until he lost, and discouragingly enough, even after the loss. The most natural outcome of the election defeat would be for Tadić to utilize the high esteem he claims to be held in all over the world and make some money off of appearances, speeches, consultancy fees and such. If someone like Bill Clinton, who is not held in high esteem around the world, could make tens of millions of dollars, so should Boris Tadić. Honestly, the only time I believed the guy's words was when his weary eyes spoke louder than his claim that he would not accept the prime minister mandate, during the concession speech. But, Tadić, the man Vesna Pešić, the icon of Serbia's pro-democracy movement of the 1990s and a 1997 Nobel Prize nominee, called ''Serbian Al Capone'' on Wednesday (links to an article in Serbian) would not disappoint his staunchest critics.
The Tadić candidacy, coming after a week and a half of unnerving the public and turning the election process into a joke, cannot, however, only be looked at under the light of Tadić's ambition, hypocrisy or blatant disregard for political norms, although he definitely possesses all three epithets.
Nikolić’s victory was a surprise. Tadić did not resign to see himself out of the presidency – he intended to rule for another five years, at least. Caught by surprise and advised by its EU sponsors against any undemocratic measures that characterized the first round and its rule in general, the Democratic Party responded to Tadić’s defeat a bit confused. I expected Tadić to step down from the leadership of the party after losing the presidential election and also losing one third of the parliamentary election vote compared to 2008. It especially made sense considering the fact that there were at least two up-and-coming younger men who held on to their electorate in a more steadfast manner than he did: Dragan Đilas, the mayor of Belgrade, and Bojan Pajtić, the prime minister of the province of Vojvodina. Tadić lost and these two men won in their respective domains, in Serbian electoral terms - decisively. The mayor of the capital city, Đilas is known to have control over much of the Serbian news media, through direct ownership or indirectly, an invaluable asset to any politician’s job security. He is considered a tycoon in Serbia and arguably its single most powerful politician. Pajtić, having escaped unscathed from serious political scandals and having led Serbia’s northern province, however ineptly, showed survival skills and political stamina at a young age that rightfully puts him up for a promotion, undoubtedly desired soon. Based on their current strength, there is no doubt that both of these men want to lead the party with Tadić out of their way. Considering the way Tadić won the leadership after the death of Zoran Đinđić, the battle for power promised to be bloody. Tadić had to stay, for at least a while longer. The power struggle between Đilas and Pajtić has already started, with news coming out on Wednesday about a grant-receiving scientist in Novi Sad being denied the already-awarded grant after refusing to shake hands with Pajtić. Also, the news of a Hungarian neo-Nazi rally in Kanjiža is bound to take a stab at Pajtić.
To have pro- and anti-Nikolić nationalists consider the fact that Nikolić may not have as much power as some of us would want, especially under the possibility of a cohabitation, I have been repeating this one on Twitter since May 20: no ambitious politician would want to occupy the hot seat of the head of the Serbian cabinet through the upcoming economic mess. Not Đilas, if he can push someone else to the forefront. Pajtić, a runner-up to Đilas in any scenario, wouldn’t be so stupid either. Tadić was the only one with no choice. If he didn’t accept this job, he wouldn’t last in the party leadership for another six months. He is expended and disposable and his only use at this point is his willingness to be a pawn even within his own party, to succumb to party and international pressures and to sabotage the new president.
Do not underestimate the Brussels impact. Yes, the Eurocrats sent the ‘’premature’’ congratulatory note to Nikolić. It was a clear signal that they weren’t surprised, that they had no use for Tadić since December 9, 2011, unless they wanted to incite the people to riot and that Nikolić could, in his own way, suit their ambition as well. Until they can sort things out and come up with some kind of power-sharing deal between Đilas and Pajtić that would allow them to continue undermining Serbia’s legitimacy in Vojvodina, who better to pose as a person of importance than Tadić? Through his media, Đilas will insist on subtly blaming the cohabitation setup for anything that goes wrong, taking stabs at Nikolić, even though the president is the only official elected directly by the people and the one whose constitutional limitations render him unable to significantly affect the executive decisions. In other words, Nikolić will not be making decisions, but the Đilas-controlled media will gently spin any failure of this government to smear Nikolić. The early insistence by media on setting the cohabitation up as a problematic solution is clearly pointing at the planned exploitation of all the negatives this setup produces for the purpose of damaging Nikolić. Tadić was incapable of governing effectively and democratically while he was in office, although he usurped both the presidential and the cabinet powers by appointing a weak prime minister, but he is definitely capable, backed by the EU support and Đilas’ logistics, of seriously hurting the president and allowing the Vojvodina separatists to make ever greater gains. If the EU really does not care for Serbia, it does care to make it weaker and it does care for Vojvodina. With Pajtić pitting Vojvodina against Đilas behind the curtains, Đilas pitting Belgrade against Pajtić, both shielded by the ineffectiveness of Tadić - the recipe for a further destabilization of Serbia is set. As for Nikolić, when he voices his stand against joining NATO or against negotiating with the alleged war criminals in Kosovo, the North Atlantic community will handily fabricate the notion that he is a stubborn nationalist, striving to pull Serbia away from the ‘’European’’ integration and back into the 1990s. (I hear more and more Serbs reminiscing about the economic prosperity of the Milošević era, however incredible it sounds.)
The looming economic collapse in the Eurozone will undoubtedly affect Serbia as well. Go no further: Serbia GDP is projected to grow 0.1 percent this year. The fiscal deficit is projected at 6.2 percent for the end of the year. The public debt is approaching 55 percent of the GDP. Yes, the United States’ numbers in this category are far worse, but the Americans can obliterate a random country out of existence to feed their faltering growth that hovers a little over 2 percent anyway. Tadić brought the country to its knees, no one expects him to recover it. No one can recover it, expect maybe Putin, but I doubt he is going to want to throw significant money into a pit. He promised $800 million to Nikolić, but not to Tadić. The way Tadić spends, I’d be careful if I was Putin. Đilas, or Pajtić, cannot possibly want to take the blame for a failing economy of the country when they can position themselves for a potential showdown from the more comfortable, yet almost equally powerful positions they firmly hold now. Or, they can use the extra few months to clean up possible corruption trails leading to them, if they are in anticipation of some sort of an anti-corruption offensive, err, a regime change. So, the best for everybody is to throw Tadić under a bus, he is expendable.
The conclusion is, Tadić agreed to rule just to extend his political life and life in power, in front of flashing cameras, to satisfy Western interests, to stave off the tumult in his own party, to sabotage Nikolić… When has he ever said "no" to anti-Serbian interests anyway? It is a shame, but Serbia is less and less able to recognize it and call it what it is. No one talks about the electoral fraud that delegitimized the entire first round. Off the Đilas wire, off Serbia’s mind.

No comments: