Serbian cabinet falls, early elections in May

March 9th, 2008 - 4:14 am ICT by admin  

Belgrade, March 9 (DPA) Nationalist Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica resigned Saturday and announced early elections for May 11, saying his government had shattered on Kosovo policy. “The government no more has a common policy regarding a most important issue and a government which has no common policy cannot function,” Kostunica told a press conference. “It is the end of the government.”

Kostunica earlier said he lost confidence that his coalition partners were “honestly” trying to keep the breakaway province Kosovo Serbian.

The cabinet would meet Monday to dissolve the parliament and agree to hold early elections May 11, together with municipal polls and elections for authorities in Vojvodina, Serbia’s northern province, Kostunica told reporters.

The Serbian government and parliament had been deadlocked since mid-January, when Kostunica clashed with his pro-European partners by insisting that Serbia should not continue negotiating membership of the EU because of Western support for Kosovo.

Kosovo, with its majority Albanian population, declared independence from Serbia in February. Leading Western nations recognized the new state, and the EU deployed a mission to aid it.

Ministers from President Boris Tadic’s Democratic Party and the reformist G17 outvoted Kostunica in his own cabinet Thursday to block a resolution that would have effectively cemented the suspension of Serbia’s EU talks.

Unlike Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), DS and G17 want Serbia to continue moving closer to EU despite Kosovo.

The draft, fielded by the ultra-nationalist opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), insisted that Serbia could negotiate membership only if EU recognised its sovereignty over Kosovo -an impossibility which would have cemented Serbia’s turn away from EU.

DS and G17 top officials already Friday said elections were the best way out of the crisis. Kostunica’s government, formed in difficult three-month talks following early polls in January 2007, lasted less than 10 months.

“We agree that elections are the best way to resolve the crisis. Anything else would be a waste of time and energy,” G17 leader Mladjan Dinkic said Saturday.

A top SRS official, Dragan Todorovic, also welcomed the announcement of early elections - which the government yet needs to confirm Monday, as the “best way to resolve the agony.”

“It is incomprehensible that the government could carry on as long considering the absolutely opposing positions of the two sides within it,” Todorovic said.

May elections would effectively be a referendum in which Serbia would choose whether it wants to move closer to EU membership or turn away from it over Kosovo.

Much of the momentum Tadic gained for the pro-European bloc by closely defeating the SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic in his re-election in early February may have been wasted meanwhile.

No popularity surveys have been completed since Kosovo declared independence. The latest polls, from before mid-February, indicated that elections were likely to produce more of the same.

Already the strongest single party in Serbia, SRS was still surging and DS and G17 were also gaining as an informal bloc, pollsters said, but neither enough for a majority, so Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia may again emerge with the keys to the majority despite their receding popularity.

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