UNCLAS BELGRADE 000145
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR EUN SR XG
SUBJECT: SERBIA: GOVERNMENT STUCK
Â¶1. (SBU) The continuing political crisis in the Serbia has brought
the government to a standstill. Prime Minister Kostunica refuses to
convene his Cabinet and the Speaker refuses to convene Parliament.
The first casualty of the show-down between the members of the
ruling coalition is the interim agreement for cooperation with
Europe the signing of which the EU has had to postpone. The second
casualty may be the Prime Minister. There seems little likelihood
that Kostunica will recover from his self-inflicted -- even
irrational -- blows and no one seems eager to join ranks with him in
a new coalition. His phoenix-like qualities, however, remain his
main strength. End Summary.
Â¶2. (U) The Government has delayed the signing of an interim
cooperation agreement with the European Union, originally scheduled
for February 7. Prime Minister Kostunica refuses to convene a
regular government session, thereby preventing the Cabinet from
authorizing Deputy Prime Minister Djelic to sign the agreement. On
Febrary 5, the Prime Minister attempted to refer the matter to
Parliament (ref A), where the SRS and DSS blocs would undoubtedly
kill the agreement, but Parliament Speaker Dulic (DS) kicked it back
to the Cabinet. After consulting with the President early February
6, Dulic commented on radio that common practice called for the
Government to refer matters to Parliament with a recommendation.
The Speaker said he would wait patiently for the Government to
convene and follow this practice. His adviser told poloff that the
Speaker then promptly left town, with plans to return in time for
the meeting of party whips that he called for Monday morning,
February 11. Echoing the Speaker's message and challenge in a radio
broadcast later in the evening, President Tadic called on Kostunica
to schedule a government session for Thursday, February 7.
Parliament can not replace Government, Tadic said.
The PM Stands Alone
No One to the Rescue
Â¶3. (U) The morning of February 6, Radical Party (SRS) leader
Tomisalv Nikolic dispelled rumors (circulating about town all night
via SMS) of a deal to form a coalition with Kostunica's Democratic
Party of Serbia. In a statement on B92 television, Nikolic said he
saw no sense in supporting those whose party strength is so
uncertain and who chose not to accept his cooperation in the past.
A Liberal Democratic Party contact summed up the increasingly common
assessment of the week's events: "Kostunica's ship is sinking."
Â¶4. (U) In his televised statement, Nikolic was equally dismissive
of Prime Minister and President. Referring to Tadic's election-day
announcement that he would seek to meet with Nikolic soon, Nikolic
rejected the gesture. "We congratulated each other after the
election, and that is the only contact we expect to have" for the
time being, he said. The government opposition is in good shape, he
said and advised coalition partners to meet with one another, rather
than with him. Until the government crisis and Kosovo issues were
resolved, Nikolic said he would not seek meetings with either
Kostunica or Tadic. A Tadic advisor taken aback by Nikolic's
remarks said that the President had proposed the meeting to
demonstrate respect for the two million voters who had supported his
Radical Party opponent and to show that Tadic wanted to be President
of all Serbians, despite their differences. The advisor called
Nikolic's comments "shameful."
Â¶6. (U) In the absence of government authorization of the DPM, the
Democratic Party was looking for an alternatve mechanism that would
allow the EU agreement signing to go forward. Presidential Foreign
Policy Advisor Jovan Ratkovic said that until Tadic took the oath of
office under the 2006 Constitution, he had questionable authority to
act without government concurrence. (Serbia's adoption of a new
Constitution in 2006 required the Speaker of Parliament to call for
presidential elections nearly 18 months before the end of Tadic's
term of office. His inauguration and swearing in under the 2006
Constitution is currently set for February 15.)
Fixing the Government
Â¶7. (SBU) Neither Tadic's advisor nor Kostunica's saw a possibility
of the ruling coalition surviving much longer. The situation was
deteriorating daily, PM Advisor Miroslav Sestovic told poloff.
Sestovic implied that the PM had overreacted to the proposed EU
agreement, which he described as "just a statement of good will,"
but he saw no way to bring the sides back together. "It would take
a miracle," said President's Ratkovic.
Kostunica's Mental Stability
Â¶8. (SBU) Growing buzz around Belgrade questions Kostunica's mental
health. After surviving political crisis after political crisis,
his current grasp on reality appears shaky. A number of
high-ranking Serbian Government officials have said during the last
24 hours that Kostunica was alternately unbalanced, unstable,
irrational, and incapacitated. There are rumors in recent months
that Kostunica does not consult with his DSS advisors and mostly
relies on the rabidly anti-American, shadowy Chief of Staff
Aleksandar Nikitovic -- and Russians.
Â¶9. (SBU) All interlocutors with whom emboffs spoke today expect the
government to fall. With no apparent support for a minority
government or DSS participation in a coalition, President Tadic
would have to call parliamentary elections. The earliest likely
date would be in May, coinciding with scheduled local elections.
Â¶10. (SBU) The challenges to Tadic's authority and political agenda,
days after his reelection, may have provided the President an
opportunity, not only to stand up to Kostunica, but to get rid of
him. The PM and President have sparred for years, but their
relationship kept each other in power. For the past month, however,
Tadic has repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister and emerged
stronger for it. Though his future looks bleak, Kostunica's ability
to survive are extraordinary, perhaps his strongest quality. End