Rumors that the powerful ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) was splitting were confirmed when its acting leader, Tomislav Nikolic, resigned all his party posts.
Nikolic had led the moderate wing of the ultra-nationalist SRS
Nikolic resigned Saturday, Sept. 6, as the deputy of the party chief Vojislav Seselj, who has been on trial for war crimes at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) since early 2003, as well as the SRS floor leader in the Serbian parliament.
SRS said in a statement that Nikolic stepped down at the party leadership meeting Friday night. The outcome indicates that the extreme hardline wing within SRS, loyal to Seselj, overcame the moderates led by Nikolic.
Nikolic has led the SRS with apparently comprehensive loyalty since Seselj left Serbia to face trial in early 2003 -- yet under his leadership, the party toned down its belligerent rhetoric, softening its image slightly.
Party split over EU ties
The SRS has won most votes in all parliamentary polls since 2003, but power always remained elusive, mostly owing to pressure from the EU, which had made it clear that extreme nationalists were not acceptable as partners in Serbia's membership bid.
The power struggle within SRS exploded over Nikolic's plan to steer SRS to support Serbia's pre-membership treaty with the EU from the opposition.
According to media reports, Seselj intervened from his detention in The Hague and ordered the party not to back the pro-European cabinet in any way.
The parliament is due to vote on the Stabilization and Association agreement next week, and it is still not clear how SRS representatives in parliament would vote, or if they would actually revert to obstruction by filibustering, causing huge delays in recent months.
The way SRS deputies vote may also hint at the future of the party, whether it would shift more to the political centre as Nikolic wants, remain on the extreme and destructive right, as Seselj wants, or if it will split.
Barring more delays, Prime Minister Miroslav Cvetkovic's ruling coalition would have enough support within and outside the complex alliance to push the deal with EU, along with other crucial laws waiting for enactment.