Elections and Failure of Politics
by Nebojsa Malic
for the course," announced the AFP headline
on Sunday, October 16, as the third Serbian presidential election
in a year headed to inevitable failure. By the time the polls
closed, less than 40% of voters bothered to cast a ballot
for either of the two major and several minor candidates,
far below the 50%+ legal threshold. Though most reports blamed
the low turnout on "voter apathy," and there was undoubtedly
much thereof, the vote was doomed to failure from the beginning.
story was the surprising success of the Radical party, les
enfants terribles of modern Serbian politics. Pre-election
statements by pro-Imperial analysts already reflected alarm
at likely Radical gains, though the actual victory of their
candidate came unexpectedly.
a failure, this costly exercise in futile power-worship revealed
much. In six weeks, when general elections are scheduled,
the current regime will be booted from power without mercy.
Whoever wins will be expected to pay obeisance to the Empire,
or face the wrath of Washington and The Hague Inquisition.
And while getting rid of DOS is a good thing no matter what,
chances are the lives of people in Serbia will not change
dramatically. The apparatus of government is too ingrained
into the society there, as elsewhere in the Balkans, and too
seductive for anyone lacking commitment to freedom. Whoever
the Serbians vote for, a government will be elected.
From the Start
soon as it was called, the election was guaranteed to fail,
most of all because the legal requirement of a 50%+ turnout
was left on the books. This was the accomplishment of the
late Zoran Djindjic, who schemed to secure all levers of power
in Serbia last fall by preventing the victory of arch-rival
Vojislav Kostunica. He had already placed a puppet in line
for acting presidency, and his party basically boycotted the
vote, even though one of its members ran on a pro-government
platform. Still, some 55% of the voters showed up, and the
runoff election on October 13 was sure to go to Kostunica.
Djindjic's plan was saved only by the boycott by Radical leader
Vojislav Seselj's supporters; Seselj had come in third. Kostunica
either did not try to make a deal with Seselj, or tried and
failed. Either way, the turnout in the runoff was below 50%,
invalidating the election and clearing the way for Djindjic
loyalist Natasa Micic to step in as acting President. However,
five months later Djindjic was gunned down, and the elaborate
autocratic arrangement he ran began to disintegrate.
a two-month period of police repression following
the assassination, the Dossie regime began to rapidly decay.
Lurching from one scandal to the next, it faced defections
and rapidly dwindling popular support, until it was obvious
it could no longer hold on to power. Resisting the calls for
general elections, which would have spelled political suicide
for DOS, the government arranged for a presidential
vote as a way of throwing
its opponents a bone. They didn't bite; both Kostunica's
Serbian Democrats (DSS) and the Keynesian liberals of G-17
formerly allied with Djindjic boycotted the vote, reducing
the choice to an aging former mentor of Djindjic's (Dragoljub
Micunovic) and the Radical leader (Tomislav Nikolic), recently
promoted by his party chairman's departure for The Hague dungeons.
The former represented the despised DOS regime, the latter
a brand of demagogic nationalism popular with the growing
minority of Serbs – but still a minority.
Undertaker's" Empty Victory
make the irony complete, just days before the presidential
vote the Dossies had no choice but to disband the parliament
a general election for December 28. Even if DSS or G-17
wanted to run a presidential candidate, it was too late. Knowing
their real chance would be in December, their supporters stayed
Micunovic tried to appeal
to the public last Thursday with a claim that his opponents
stood for the "nationalist past" and threatened the "foundations
of democracy," ostensibly build by DOS. But this "vote for
me, the other guy's worse" approach failed to impress the
people sickened by three years of governance that can only
be described as disgraceful. In a political climate dominated
by resentment and smoldering anger at Serbia's treatment by
the West, signals that the Empire favored
Micunovic may have hurt him some as well.
on the other hand, pushed
all the right buttons. "We do not want to be slaves,"
he declared at his last electoral rally, and commented, "It's
been a long time since patriots were in power and that's why
things are going badly," as he cast his ballot.
referred to as "The Undertaker" because in his pre-political
life he used to manage a cemetery, Nikolic is hardly a Le
Pen. But like the French firebrand, the reputation of
his party – and its former boss – for "extremist" political
positions drowns out the valid questions he sometimes asks.
Despite their posturing, the Radicals don't really have a
plan for running Serbia, and certainly not for reforming its
autocratic system of government and state control. They are,
however, bitterly opposed to the Hague Inquisition, the ongoing
occupation of Kosovo and Imperial diktat – albeit for
very different reasons than the handful of Serbia's libertarians.
and Loathing in the Aftermath
failed vote's aftermath elicited reactions from DOS and the
West ranging from alarm to
anger. Even prior to the vote, international luminaries such
as the ICG railed
against Nikolic and the Radicals. Most agency reports referred
to Nikolic as an "ultra-nationalist" (whatever that meant)
as opposed to Dossie defenders of "democracy."
bitter Micunovic said the vote was "Serbia's failure,"
but didn't specify whether this was because of the insufficient
turnout, or because he lost. Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic
bemoaned the results as "a giant step back," and complained
to US propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe that this
would hurt Serbia's
standing abroad. No one pointed out that Svilanovic wasn't
exactly helping by airing such views.
this point, Serbia is without a president or a parliament,
with only the decomposing Dossie government in charge of things
until December 28. The strongest contenders at that time will
be Kostunica's DSS, the G-17, and the Radicals, but it is
unlikely either will win an outright majority, and impossible
to predict who might come out the strongest. Whoever does,
they should expect a fierce diplomatic onslaught from Washington
and The Hague, and threats of economic pressure if they fail
to obey. Hinting at this is the New York Times report
on the eve of the failed November 16 vote, which criticized
DOS for "failure to cooperate fully" with the Inquisition.
Presumably, whoever succeeds them will be expected to obey
one believes the purported correlation between democracy and
prosperity, or takes seriously Washington's announced intent
democracy with fire and sword, the former Yugoslavia stands
as proof positive that the former is not true, and the latter
will not work. All of its successor states practice pure democracy,
even the Bosnian protectorate and the occupied Serbian province
of Kosovo. All, except Slovenia, are failures; admittedly,
to a varying degree, but failures nonetheless. In Slovenia,
for a variety of reasons, politics plays second fiddle to
commerce – and the country prospers. Everywhere else, politics
has been said before here, and it doesn't hurt to say it again,
however many times it may be necessary before the message
sinks in: the problem of the Balkans is that everything
is politics. The tentacles of government are in every
sphere of life, draining away the people's will to live. The
only way out offered to the hopeless is to seize the ruinous
reins of power for themselves, and be transformed from the
abused to the abuser. The cycle feeds itself, misery deepens,
and hope gets ever dimmer.
man once said, the problem is not the abuse of power,
but the power to abuse. Until the unfortunate people of the
former Yugoslavia – and elsewhere, mind you – grasp that basic
truth, they can vote as many times and for whomever they please.
Their lives will not change one bit.
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