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Serbian Reform Parties Form Coalition

After more than a month of uncertainty, Serbia’s feuding pro-democracy reform parties formed a coalition government on Thursday night, averting a crisis and blocking the nationalists from returning to power.


Serbs may have voted, but they're still waiting for a new government.

Serbia’s four western-style pro-democracy parties came together on Thursday night, ending a political showdown which began more than a month ago following inconclusive new elections. The crisis threatened to bring the country to a political and economic standstill and reverse the progress made since former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is now on trial at the Hague, was forced from office three years ago.

Details of the agreement, including a choice for speaker of the assembly, have been left to next week. For now, political leaders seem happy to have made the first step.

“I think five, six, or even seven days are inconsequential, if it means that we will -- at last -- have a far-reaching and meaningful agreement on the composition of the parliament and the government,” said Zoran Zivkovic, the head of the reformist Democratic Party (DS).

Political rivals engaged in power play

Serbia was plunged into political turmoil in December, when new elections were called after political infighting prompted the coalition headed by Mr. Zivkovic’s party to dissolve. This came just months after Serbia's prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in March.

In the resulting elections, the right-wing Radical Party emerged as the biggest winner, with 82 of the assembly’s 250 seats. But that wasn’t enough to form a majority government, even with the help of Milosevic’s Socialist Party, which claimed 22 of the seats.

Still, this caused the international community to fear the return of Milosevic-style Serbian nationalism unless the country’s four pro-democracy reformist parties formed a coalition to block the nationalists.

But that’s easier said than done. Although the four democratic parties together hold 146 of the assembly seats -- a majority -- the two largest of the quartet, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), which came in second, and Zivkovic’s ousted Democratic Party (DS), have been bitter rivals. The two may have come together three years ago to topple Milosevic, but they have agreed on little since.

What’s at stake

As the crisis dragged on -- on Tuesday, at the assembly’s first official meeting, they could not agree on the selection of a speaker -- economic and political experts considered the long-term implications if the stalemate went unresolved.

“The inability of political parties to agree on the new government, let alone on key economic issues like how to kick start or boost employment, will mean another year of economic stagnation,” said Miloje Kanjevac, director of the private IZIT Market Research Institute. He pointed out that Serbia has an ever-growing trade deficit of €3.7 billion ($4.6 billion) and 32 percent unemployment.

What’s more, if the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which negotiated a debt relief deal allowing a 66 percent write off of Serbia’s $4.5 billion debt, loses confidence in Serbia’s road to democratic reform, the government might be forced to pay up.

The high-stakes, in the end, have brought the four reform-minded parties, including the two rivals, to the negotiating table. But the devil is still in the details, and the selection of key government officials next week will determine the path ahead.

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