Right-leaning parties which were in power in the 1990s return to prominence as voters seek a remedy to economic woes.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 29/10/12
Dragan Cavic, president of the Serbian Democratic Party, casts his ballot on October 1st. SDS and its coalition won 26 municipalities from the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats. [Reuters]
Recent victories by the Serbian Democratic Party coalition in Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) recent local elections seemed to be the latest sign of a shifting political landscape in the Balkans.
But while right-leaning parties have returned to prominence in BiH and other countires, citizens and political analysts said election results are being driven by poor economic conditions more than the age-old political and philisophical battles between the left and the right.
The Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) suffered the hardest punch in BiH's October 7th local elections, losing 26 municipalities that the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) took along with its coalition partners.
Analysts and right-leaning party members said the SNSD lost voters' confidence because of the poor quality of life, and the lack of change in the country.
"People realised that the left parties do not differ much from the right when it comes to running the country," Sarajevo resident Miodrag Rakovic, 34, told SETimes. "[SNSD] was in power in Sarajevo for 10 years and has not done anything significant. I can't claim that the new government will make things better, but it can not be better if something does not change."
Jozo Konjevic, 60, a farmer from Trebinje in southern BiH, said he was disappointed with the rule of Democrats.
"When they came on power 10 years ago, they promised all, but fulfilled very little," Konjevic said. "It seems to me that I lived better during the war. At least then I could feed my family from my work in the field. Now I can't sell anything that I produce. All factories for the purchase are privatised and destroyed."
Dragan Cavic, president of the SDS, said the right-wing parties in the former Yugoslavia have reformed and essentially traded places with the SNSD.
A woman walks past election posters in Srebrenica on October 6th. [Reuters]
"Social Democrats in BiH are autocratic parties of which is ruled by one man," Cavic told SETimes. "That man is the owner of the party, the owner of all the functions that the party covers and also the owner of all voters which vote for that party. Former right-wing parties have ended with autocraty a long time ago and reformed through the years, so now we have a replacement thesis in the ideology of the parties. It's the same in Serbia and Montenegro."
Borislav Bojic, SDS vice president, said the political scene has changed significantly because citizens are dissatisfied.
Hundreds of thousands of workers in BiH and other Balkan countries have lost their jobs in the past five years, and an average market basket has become almost twice as expensive during that time. Meanwhile, the states continued to borrow from international monetary institutions in order to preserve social peace.
"Change is definitely good, but it's not important what the SDS, as a moderate right-wing party, won," Bojic told SETimes. "Politicians need to understand that the people will punish them if they don't do a good job, as has happened now."
Slobodan Popovic, vice president of BiH's Social Democratic Party, said all parties have experienced some kind of transformation.
"When the leftists took power they didn't know what to do with it," Popovic told SETimes. "Power became the main goal for everybody. We must return to our primeval principles, and that is solidarity, human needs, helping of socially vulnerable categories. That should be the recipe for better politics in the future."
The desire for change is becoming more common in the region.
In Serbia, the Serbian Progressive Party, which formed after former president Tomislav Nikolic left the Serbian Radical Party, won parliamentary elections held in July.
Zoran Milanovic greets supporters during an election rally last December in Zagreb. Milanovic's centre-left coalition unseated the Croatian Democratic Union. [Reuters]
It remains to be seen what the new government in Serbia will do to address the country's economic troubles.
Miroslav Prokopijevic, a professor of economics at the University of Belgrade, said there has been no visible progress in the regime's first few months.
"New authorities continue to borrow money, they told that there will be no cuts of administration, while on the other hand you have more than 400,000 layoffs in private sector for the past several years. Maybe it's still early to comment on the government's work, but I'm not an optimist," he told SETimes.
A left-to-right shift happened in Croatia last year. The Social Democrats came to power, pushing the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) into opposition for only the second time in two decades.
Dinko Sisljagic, 37, a lawyer from Zagreb, said the main reasons that voters wanted change were the high level of corruption and lack of political ideas on how to move the country forward.
"We saw after the election how big is the corruption octopus in Croatia and how many people went to prison," Sisljagic said. "I'm not saying that the new government is innocent, but people have realised that they can punish politicians."