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New coalition parties all promise better government – but as the agendas they advocate differ significantly, policy disagreements could soon emerge, research by BIRN Serbia and CeSID shows.
The right qualifications, instead of party membership cards, will be the entry card to work in public enterprises over the next four years, Serbia’s new ruling parties agree.
This was one of the key points highlighted in the July coalition agreement on forming a new government.
Leaders of three parties, the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party, the Socialist Party of Serbia and pro-business United Regions of Serbia, sealed the deal on a new government on July 10.
“Paradoxically, the parties are the only ones that can carry out the party de-politicisation process, as they are the ones that created it,” Suzana Grubjesic, of United Regions of Serbia, said.
In the 13-page coalition deal, the parties elaborated the new government's agenda in various fields, including foreign policy, the economy, social policy, rule of law, the fight against crime and corruption, public administration, decentralisation, media freedom, health, education and science.
But research by BIRN Serbia and a local NGO, the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSID, shows that - despite professing similar goals - Serbia’s new leaders may encounter obstacles in reaching these goals, as the paths they suggest in their programmes and in the election campaign vary.
The report, “Performance evaluation, step towards political accountability”, which was drafted in April, focuses on the parties’ agendas in four fields: economy, education, corruption and health.
The issue of the economy and economic development was the main election issue for all three parties, the report shows - no surprise, perhaps, as unemployment stands at 25.5 per cent and the average salary is only about 350 euro a month.
All three parties advocate a more efficient public sector, more responsible management of public finances and better use of taxpayers' money. Their other priorities are boosting exports and full cooperation with EU financial institutions.
Ivica Dacic, the Socialist leader and Prime Minister delegate, made a point of targeting so-called “banksters” in the campaign.
“Banksters are banks acting like gangsters, financial institutions that govern our lives,” he said.
The other parties did not use that language, but all three parties agree on rationalization and cutting public spending, meaning that all unnecessary state administration costs must be eliminated.
The new leaders also agreed that pensions and salaries should not be frozen but that their growth in the first year must be harmonised with the budget’s real capacity.
While the Socialists and the United Regions of Serbia opt for subsidized loans for small and medium enterprises, the Progressives want the state to be partner to the small and medium-sized enterprises.
But the United Regions and the Socialists disagree over the concept of market economy.
United Regions champions a market economy with a “minimal state”, while the Socialists believe in “social justice and welfare” and want the state to intrvene actively to control the negative effects of the free market.
The three programmes diverge also over infrastructure. The Progressives would invest in building hydropower plants, United Regions focuses on building more roads to connect Serbia’s regions, while the Socialists want to invest more in the Corridor 10 highway.
While United Regions was most detailed on economic issues in the election, it did not say much on the corruption issue. However, this was the Progressives' favourite topic in the campaign, and in their programme.
Ivan Ninic, of the Progressives, said that they will start tackling corruption the day they come to power. «The state cannot move forward until a rigorous fight against crime and corruption is carried out,” he said in the campaign.
With that in mind, the Progressives unveiled a detailed five-point plan, also putting the corruption issue in a separate section. Its objectives are:
1) elimination of corrupt relations between criminally acquired capital and politics.
2) removal of Serbia from the map of transit routes for drug trafficking.
3) making Serbia an example in the region in the fight against corruption, with results clearly visible to people, businesses and foreign investors.
4) decriminalizing and professionalizing the civil service
5) creating a more stable and secure environment security.
Meanwhile, the Socialists support consistent implementation of laws for everyone. The party called for the modernisation of the police, prosecution and judiciary, legislative changes and stricter legal and economic measures to penalize all forms of crime and corruption.
While education was not in the spotlight of this campaign, all the parties unveiled plans to improve the educational system.
The Progressives opt for an educational system that maintains humanistic values while helping to preserve Serbia’s national identity.
They say that the educational system needs aligning with the labour market and call for a stricter system of accreditation. Outstanding scientists deserve better rewards, so they plan to finance PhD studies for 5 per cent of students.
Socialists have similar plans. As firm opponents of high tuition fees, they pledge more funds for high schools and higher education, to offer free education to more young people.
The Socialists’ Nenad Borovcanin said that every municipality in should have a free school for sports. “This way we will create generations that will be able to look their opponents and life straight in the eye,” Borovcanin said in the campaign.
On the other hand, United Regions was silent on the education issue in the campaign. But in its programme, it advocates offering scholarships for students who choose subjects that the business world best needs.
“We would make IT education a compulsory subject and introduce entrepreneurship as an optional subject in high schools,” the party added.
Serbian healthcare is available to all citizens and registered long-term residents while private healthcare in Serbia is available for those who can afford it.
However, the health system has been under-funded for years as a result of which standards have dropped. Some of the main concerns in the field include inadequate equipment and supplies, low salaries and poor medical education.
The United Regions of Serbia, whose ministers Tomica Milosavljevic and Zoran Stankovic headed the health ministry in the last government - marred by scandals over the purchase of swine flu shots and other issues – had no line on health reform in the campaign.
The Progressives and the Socialists, meanwhile, articulated the same vision of a better and more equal health care system. Both parties pledged to reform the system and keep it free for all citizens.
Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, the Socialist candidate for the health minister’s position, said that Serbia should learn from US President Barrack Obama reforms of health insurance.
“Money is not the main issue in Serbia - but rather its unfair distribution,” she said in the campaign.
While the Progressives call for better working conditions for doctors, the Socialists said they want to encourage the development of additional, voluntary, health insurance.
This article is a result of BIRN Serbia project "Performance evaluation, step towards political accountability" supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.
This spring almost 7 million Serbians are entitled to vote in presidential, general, provincial and local elections.
Since the renewal of multi-party politics in 1990 power has oscillated between a variety of parties in Serbia and votes have often followed by allegations of frauds and protests.
Twelve years after the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, the scene has changed significantly as parties rise, fall and change their minds. See Balkan Insight's profiles of Serbia's ruling and opposition parties.
Since the first multi-party elections were held in 1990, Serbia has often had acting heads of state, while many of those elected ended their terms before their mandates expired.
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