Issue No. 300 - December 12, 2002
1. FRY/ Serbia: WITHOUT PRESIDENT
by Branka Vujnovic
2. Azerbaijan: THE SITUATION IS NOT HOPELESS
by Ulvi Hakimov
3. Ukraine: OPPOSITION WINDING DOWN?
by Ivan Lozowy
The pessimistic forecasts of analysts and public opinion surveys proved true once again. The third attempt to elect a president for Serbia failed. The previous failed elections were held in two round at the end of September and the beginning of October. The repeated presidential election held on Sunday December 8 saw a voter turnout of 45.17 percent, below the 50 percent (plus 1) standard prescribed by election law. The election was officially proclaimed failed.
This time, the most votes went to the candidate of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), current Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He received 57.66 percent. He was followed by the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party, the right-wing extremist Vojislav Seselj, who won 36.3 percent, and Borislav Pelevic, supported by another right-wing extremist party, who won a meager 3.5 percent.
The mandate for the current Serbian president Milan Milutinovic (who is accused by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes and who will be tried after stepping down) is expiring on January 5, and it is still uncertain who his successor will be—or when. The failure of the presidential elections will certainly deepen the current power struggle between Serbia's two main politicians, Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who heads the Democratic Party (DS). While Kostunica is laying blame for the election failure on the Djindjic-led Serbian government, the prime minister has replied that Kostunica has only himself to blame for his futile "victory." Political analysts point out that the crucial factor in the election failure was the general disinterest of the voters, not any hidden obstruction of elections organized by the ruling DOS coalition. Many voters abstained from voting because they were displeased with the choice of candidates, the constant fighting among politicians, and as a protest against the unchanged poor standard of living since toppling the Milosevic regime and the coming to power of the democratic coalition headed by Djindjic and Kostunica. According to analysts, however, the responsibility for the election failure rests primarily with politicians and not with citizens, who behaved rationally.
Since polls predicted a significant advantage to Kostunica, everything was already clear. As a result, the presidential candidates did not put much of an effort into motivating their voters. All three candidates belonged to the so-called right-wing option; so "left"-inclined voters didn't have anyone to vote for. According to the president of the Vojvodina parliament, Nenad Canak, Serbia had the choice of selecting between "an AK-47 machine gun and two volunteers," alluding to the controversial picture of Kostunica posing with an AK-47 with Serbian irregular forces in the period just before the Kosovo war and to the proudly displayed past of both Seselj and Pelevic who proudly flaunt their roles in the wars in former Yugoslavia.
With their abstention, citizens sent a clear message about what they think of ruling politicians and the chaos of Serbian politics. However, it seems that message interests no one. The fight between the two political blocs gathered around Kostunica, on the one hand, and Djindjic, on the other, continues with the same ferocity and no-holds-barred maneuvering. Kostunica does not intend to accept failure and his party is sending new complaints to the Constitutional Court trying to prove that failure was caused by incomplete voter registration list. DSS claims that they will, if necessary, appeal to international institutions. On the other hand, Djindjic's bloc, thinks it is pointless to hold another elections and proposes to change the Serbian constitution so that the president would be elected by the Serbian parliament. The Serbian prime minister, by holding on to this strategy, has managed to prevent his main rival from becoming head of the country.
Until the issue is finally decided, the acting Serbian president will be president of the Serbian parliament Natasa Micic, who is completely loyal to the Serbian prime minister. Her temporary rule will therefore keep the status quo. The government and prime minister are expecting that, interrupted by abstentions in parliament, they will be able to dominate Serbian politics. On the other hand, current Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica has proved once again that he was the most prominent politician in the country. Although he did not manage to overcome the 50 percent barrier in the first round and the 50 percent turnout barrier was not reached in the subsequent elections, he overwhelmingly defeated all his opponents in all three races. Kostunica and his supporters claim that organizers of elections and of election standards—the Serbian government—did everything to make the elections fail.
Judging by past behavior of Serbian politicians, one shouldn't expect a quick resolution of the crisis. Relations between the two opposing political blocs cannot deteriorate any further. The only solution is a deal between the country's two most prominent politicians, Zoran Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica. Until then, everything is possible: dissolution of the Serbian government precipitated by the DSS with support from radicals and socialists; new presidential elections; a new constitution; or early parliamentary elections.
The problem for Serbian citizens is that while power blocs serve their
interests, the whole country suffers. European countries are already sending
warning messages about the failed credibility of the Serbian political
elite, which has failed to build upon the initial welcoming messages of
the EU addressed to the democratic winners over Milosevic's regime in 2000.
As a result, Yugoslavia has yet to be really included into the political
and economic community of Europe. The time of futile political battles,
without any regard to citizens and their real interests, is therefore continuing.
• • •
Presidential elections will be held in Azerbaijan in November 2003. All elections in Azerbaijan held since the military coup of 1993 and the overthrow of the democratically elected president, Abulfaz Elchibey, have been staged. While the hopes of Azerbaijani citizens have decreased that elections will simply replace the government and bring about a democratic and free society, most people nevertheless believe that these elections can at least put the foundations in place for a transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic government. Both sides—80-year-old Heidar Aliev who intends to keep power for another five years by nominating himself for the third time, on the one hand, and the united opposition fighting for democratic elections, on the other—have already begun to make preparations for the election campaign.
All elections in the last ten years, including the most recent presidential (1998), municipal (1999), and parliamentary (2000) elections, were blatantly fraudulent. Still, several months after the elections held in November 2000, which international observers noted was marked by "unseen falsification," Azerbaijan was accepted as member of the Council of Europe. According to the Council of Europe's requirements, the Azerbaijan government must adopt laws guaranteeing the holding of democratic, free, and fair elections in the country. But this year's August 24 referendum, which asked voters to approve 39 changes suggested by the president to 24 items of the Constitution, demonstrated the Azerbaijani government's intent not to implement this obligation. There was no step taken towards transparent and democratic elections in that referendum; instead, citizens' rights to freely express their will were restricted much more.
According to official data, 83 percent of voters participated in the referendum and over 90 percent of them supported the complicated changes suggested by the president that can only further strengthen authoritarian rule in the country. However, the results of the monitoring held by the Joint Monitoring Center of the Opposition Parties [Musavat, National Independence, Democrat, and Popular Front's reformers wing], which organized 20,000 observers who covered 56 percent of voting stations, showed that the turnout of voters was magnified by the authorities fourfold. In addition to observing, the Joint Monitoring Center of the Opposition Parties has received protocols from 2,814 of the 4900 voting stations. According to the compilations of these protocols, the turnout was just 20.3 percent, meaning that the 50 percent threshold requirement for a valid referendum failed significantly.
Unlike in the 1998 presidential and 2000 parliamentary elections, NGOs were prohibited from monitoring the August 24 referendum. Furthermore, the media were hit with numerous obstacles in observing the referendum. The OSCE, U.S. Department of State, and representatives of the Council of Europe declared that they questioned the legality of the August 24 referendum results and stated that the referendum did not reflect the will of citizens. No local courts have considered the claims on falsifications committed during the referendum.
Analysts considered this referendum to be a preparation for the 2003 presidential elections by the government. With the referendum coming into effect, the Constitution now provides for the president, at any time, to hand over his powers to the prime minister temporarily and most people suspect that the changes were designed to allow Heidar Aliev at some point to pass on his powers to his son. The August 24 referendum was also conducted through election commissions appointed by and dependent on the government and it is expected that the authorities will try to keep this administrative control over the election commissions during the presidential elections as well.
Council of Europe treaty obligations demand the government to prepare and adopt new election laws making the 2003 elections democratic and transparent. While the Azerbaijani president's apparatus prepared a draft of a new election law in the summer of this year, it has not been made public. The draft has been discussed confidentially with experts at the OSCE and Council of Europe. While government officials said the draft would be presented for a parliament reading in September, this promise has not been fulfilled. Local political parties and NGOs concerned with elections fear that the delaying of the new law's presentation to the public is intended to create obstacles to broad public discussion of the document. The draft of the above-mentioned constitutional changes were revealed to the public only two months before the referendum was to be held and monitoring held on the referendum day confirmed that the majority of voters were not informed about the essence of those changes. Therefore, at present, political parties and NGOs demand from the government that the new draft law be made public in order to guarantee broad public discussion.
The intention of the Azerbaijani government in not creating democratic condition for the 2003 elections is made clear also in the new obstacles put before the mass media and NGOs active in the area of elections. There were actions by separate government officials against the Yeni Musavat newspaper worth 200,000 USD for the articles criticizing the authorities during the last month. One of these suits demands that the newspaper be prohibited. Government representatives have prohibited the sale of the independent press in separate regions [Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Sumgait town, Agsu region, etc.]. There are serious obstacles before registering the independent NGOs. (It should be noted that ANDF, directed by this author, has had to function without registration since 1997. While there is a court verdict on registering the Foundation, the Ministry of Justice has not implemented that verdict up to day.) All of these government actions are creating serious obstacles to the development of civil society in country. Despite this, forces fighting for democratic, free, and fair elections are willing to unify efforts in order not to permit falsification of the results of 2003 elections.
Opposition forces previously represented as separate parties or blocs are now willing to function together for achieving democratic elections. Within a coalition of ten parties, the six opposition parties with greater influence—Musavat, the Popular Front's "classical" and "reformer" wings, National Independence, Democrat, and People's Parties—are unified. Since the beginning of September, there have been mass protests in Baku demanding the resignation of Heidar Aliev and the holding of democratic elections organized by the unified opposition parties. Observers are noting that more and more people are joining the demonstrations, with approximately 20,000 to 30,000 people taking part in the last one. Analysts believe the demonstrations are showing a growing support for the united opposition.
Parallel to this, local NGOs are also organizing to unifying their efforts in support of citizens' active participation in the 2003 elections and an effective and detailed monitoring of the election process. ANDF has proposed initiatives for learning the democratic election experience of the East European countries and applying that experience in Azerbaijan in the 2003 elections. There are planned promotions of several other initiatives in this direction. But it should be pointed out that it is not at all clear if NGOs will be allowed to observe the 2003 elections. The Central Election Commission created serious obstacles to the observation of the 2000 parliamentary elections and during the referendum held in August by local NGOs. Azerbaijani NGOs hope for the support of the international community in order to prevent non-transparent parliamentary elections in 2003.
Even though all elections under Heidar Aliev's reign have been falsified,
it seems that the situation is not hopeless and that it is possible for
democratic conditions to be created for the 2003 elections by bringing
together a broad public coalition of citizen unions, political parties,
* This article is reprinted from the WEEKLY ANALYTICAL-INFORMATION BULLETIN published by the AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL DEMOCRACY FOUNDATION (ANDF). To receive this e-mail publication directly, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• • •
The opposition started out with a bang in a flurry of protestations. Starting in mid-September, "The Three"—the communists, socialists, and Yuliya Tymoshenko’s bloc—held demonstrations, burst into the state TV offices and presidential administration, erected a tent city, all in an effort to remove President Leonid Kuchma from office. Since then, however, the protests have fizzled out.
Each participant’s reason for howling for Kuchma’s flesh is different. Communist party boss Petro Symonenko is trying to draw attention away from the communists’ disastrous results in the last elections and thereby avoid a leadership challenge. As for Socialist Oleksandr Moroz, after being foiled in his presidential bid in 1999, his goal is to make Kuchma's life as miserable as possible.
But the current hiatus holds great danger for Tymoshenko. She is locked in a fight to the death both with Kuchma and with the clans that support him. The first act of Svyatoslav Piskun—the newly minted General Procurator—was to submit a detailed request to parliament to have Tymoshenko’s immunity lifted. Several of Tymoshenko's relatives have just been extradited from Turkey. An assistant to her comrade-in-arms, Oleksandr Turchynov, has been arrested. The noose tightens.
It is understandable, then, that Tymoshenko, a sprightly woman of small stature, smacked a police chief during the September protests. She feels that her days at liberty are numbered. If incarcerated for a third time, as seems likely, certainly her life will be in danger, since the regime will be loath to risk having her released once again by some independent-minded judge (that judges are beginning to feel their strength is demonstrated by the judge who has ordered a criminal case to be opened against the President). In the meantime, Kuchma and his cronies are preparing to take the initiative from his opponents.
Thus far, initiative had been in the hands of the anti-Kuchma crowd. They were aided by the international scandal over Ukraine’s trading of sophisticated radar systems to Iraq. With a lull setting in on opposition and protest activity, however, Kuchma has reached equilibrium.
At least one presidential initiative has backfired. At the prompting of presidential administration chief Medvedchuk, most likely encouraged by a healthy dose of expletive-rich directions from soccer baron Hryhoriy Surkis, the prominent Russian businessman Konstantyn Hryhoryshyn was grabbed on the street and arrested. The event was unprecedented. A gun and narcotics were clumsily planted on Hryhoryshyn. During the arrest, a serving People's Deputy of Ukraine, Wolodymyr Sivkovych, was manhandled by the police. A public furor erupted, though, and Hryhoryshyn was quickly released.
The other major initiatives by the regime have included seizing control of the media and personnel changes. A well-known former KGB operative has been put in charge of the UNIAN news agency, replacing Ihor Batih, a supporter of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. The presidential administration's information tsar Serhiy Vasilyev has been issuing "temnyky," or brief written instructions to media outlets on how to cover events. Pressure on the media has mounted so quickly that—in a first for Ukraine—several prominent members of the media and hundreds of less well-known journalists have created a strike committee (www.profspilka.org.ua). In addition, several regional governors and local administrators have been replaced.
All in all, initiatives by the president and opposition have balanced out. Yet the relative calm is deceptive; only skirmishes have been fought thus far. No question but that the current lull/equilibrium is temporary and will lead to confrontation and a showdown. The outcome will depend on three principal actors.
The first is presidential administration chief and Social Democrat leader Viktor Medvedchuk has been the prime force behind pressure on the media, as in the Hryhoryshyn case, and personnel changes. He was brought in by Kuchma as his principal crisis manager and his method has been predictable: pressure and control.
The second actor is Ukraine’s most popular (for now) politician, Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Our Ukraine coalition that won the most votes in last March's elections, who until now has been largely absent from the fray. The reticence of the opposition's leader is the principal reason for the downturn in the opposition’s fortunes. Yushchenko has only dabbled with the idea of supporting the anti-Kuchma protest actions. Oddly, Yushchenko, perhaps the person with the most to gain from Kuchma’s early retirement, has taken a back seat on the early presidential elections bandwagon.
Viktor Andriyovych’s sentiments have drastically turned against Kuchma, the man he once described as a father figure. These days, in private at least, Yushchenko is scathing about Kuchma and his regime. But while Yushchenko’s ratings remain high, his performance has been passive, with few initiatives. Yet limbo is not a state to be in for Yushchenko. Kuchma is assembling a panoply of strong figures whom he hopes will, somehow or other, save him from a Yushchenko presidency. Such an outcome would pose a real threat to Kuchma, since as president Yushchenko could conceivably bring Tymoshenko or a number of realistic assessors of Kuchma’s rule, such as former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty, former General Procurator Viktor Shyshkyn or crime-fighter Hryhoriy Omelchenko, to high government posts.
Yushchenko's hesitating has made him a part of the political equation in this form. Not so for the third Viktor who may play a decisive role in the battle royale to come. The new Prime Minister, Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, represents Ukraine's largest and strongest clan, the Donetsk group headed by Renat Akhmetov. Yanukovych’s priority is to use the post of Prime Minister to strengthen his group’s financial base, that is, siphon money from the treasury, but he will be pulled this way and that in the positioning going on. Rumors have it that Yushchenko has courted, and been courted by, the Donetsk clan. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Yanukovych’s group, based in eastern Ukraine, would risk the wrath of the powers that be by aligning themselves, even undercover, with Yushchenko.