The transfer of Serbian MPs from the opposition into ruling caucuses is nothing new, but in the current parliament convocation entire parties have switched sides.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 10/08/12
Several Serbian MPs have switched their party affiliation since the May elections. [Reuters]
Since the May 6th elections, the Serbian political landscape has gone through many changes. One emerging trend is that of MPs, and even entire parties, changing sides in the parliamentary convocation.
The Social Democratic Party, which was part of the Democratic Party ticket, left its coalition partner and joined the ruling coalition in mid-July.
"This was one of the hardest decisions I made along with my colleagues in the party. I am aware that it is morally questionable, and because of that I have a bitter taste in the mouth, but we choose between survival and extinction of SDPS," party leader Rasim Ljajic said on July 19th.
Folowing the May 6th vote, Democratic Party MP Nenad Kitanovic jointed the ruling United Regions of Serbia; and MP Zaharije Trnavcevic, who participated on the ticket of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, also became a representative of the ruling majority.
According to the state election law, mandates belong to MPs rather than to their parties. However, Serbia has a proportional election system, where votes are given to party tickets, rather than to specific candidates.
Despite the moves, there is no political will among the parties in Serbia to amend the law and disable such changing of "party jerseys."
"The people who are approaching us are aware that Serbia desperately needs change, although the ruling majority is broad enough even without the newcomers and ready to take on the burdensome legacy of its predecessors," Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, said.
Djordje Vukovic, of the NGO Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, said the Law on the election of members of parliament is not the main problem, but the selection of personnel within parties.
"The parties are now criticising the MPs who leave them switch to another caucus. That begs the question of how they recommended said MPs to the voters when they included them in their tickets," Vukovic told SETimes.
He said there was a lot of negative selection in parties when choosing personnel, due to who is left on the sidelines. The law might be able to prevent the transfer of MPs from one party to another, Vukovic said, but cannot prevent them from voting differently from the party that had nominated them.
Dejan Vuk Stankovic, a professor of sociology At the University of Belgrade, said that one of the ways to sanction such behavior by MPs could be moral condemnation, i.e. the voters' negative attitude in the next election, but, he pointed out that it was not very likely.
"The problem is that the Serbian public doesn't expect much from politicians, hence moral condemnation is unlikely as a sanction. That is why the presidents of parties must foremost take responsibility for personnel policy and take care who they recommend for MPs and other posts," Stankovic told SETimes.
Vojvodina Assembly Speaker Istvan Pastor said MPs transferring into other parties is not the only problem -- he noted that there were other suspicious attempts at "buying" the voters' favor. Pastor told reporters that "an end must be put to that."
"All those things must be faced and uncovered. One cannot be disgruntled over the end of the story without having been disgruntled at the beginning over the purchase of votes. Often he who sowed wind ends up reaping a storm," Pastor said.
The representatives who have changed sides wave off claims of betraying their views. Kitanovic said he transferred to a different party precisely in the interest of citizens.
"Only strong regions can lead to a strong Serbia. United Regions of Serbia have demonstrated that all people and all regions should have equal opportunities, and the municipality of Doljevac and southern Serbia where I am from must finally receive true support from the state for development," Kitanovic said in defense of his decision to join United Regions.