Serbian parties a step from new government coalition

Other News Materials 26 June 2008 02:31 (UTC +04:00)

Serbia came a step closer to a new, pro-European government Wednesday when Parliament broke through obstruction by the opposition to elect a new speaker.

The appointment of Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, a high-ranking official of the late Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party (SPS), was a crucial test of the new coalition, which alone is still four votes short of a majority in the assembly.

President Boris Tadic's pro-European Democratic Party (DS) and the Socialists agreed this week to form a ruling coalition but have not yet cemented details of the upcoming cabinet.

The coalition behind Tadic has 102 seats, and the SPS, with two small parties in tow, has 20 seats, in the Parliament of 250 members.

There are seven ethnic minority representatives in Parliament, and at least four are needed to back the coalition to reach the threshold of 126 votes to push laws through. Tadic is counting on the ethnic minority members for a functioning majority to keep the anti-European opposition at bay.

Fiercely critical of Milosevic and hostile to SPS, the pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with its 13 votes, would remain out of the ruling coalition, its future position still unclear and possibly hinging on specific issues.

Leading the opposition is the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party with 78 seats and the outgoing, increasingly anti-Western Premier Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia with 30 seats.

The opposition had filibustered the election of a Parliament speaker since the assembly convened on Tuesday.

Out of 225 parliamentarians present, 128 - mainly representatives of DS and SPS coalitions - voted for appointment of Djukic-Dejanovic as a chairwoman of the Parliament, while 97 were against.

"I will use all my strength and experience in order for this Parliament to work efficiently and with dignity," she said, after a marathon parliamentary session.

Tadic is now expected to designate the premier - according to the coalition deal, the prime minister would come from the DS - but the party had not yet decide whom to nominate.

Local reports named the outgoing foreign and finance ministers, Vuk Jeremic and Mirko Cvetkovic, as candidates, along with the DS leader in Vojvodina province, Bojan Pajtic.

Kostunica came to power after snap elections in late 2003 and remained in office after another early election in January 2007, though his Democratic Party of Serbia never won a plurality in Parliament.

Kostunica became increasingly hostile to the West over its support for Kosovo's independence and effectively suspended Serbia's progress toward EU membership, until Tadic's allies effectively outvoted him in his own cabinet in March and forced elections that were held on May 11.

The next cabinet is expected to push the ratification through Parliament of a pre-membership deal with the European Union, which Kostunica opposes.

However, for a substantial advance toward the EU, Belgrade will have to capture the three remaining war crimes fugitives and propel stalled reforms.

That would be the real test for the new coalition, as Socialists loathe the UN war crimes tribunal - where Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial - and have so far refused to cut loose from the party's murky legacy of the 1990s, dpa reported.