The unbearable lightness of being in power: 20 years multi-party democracy in former Yugoslavia

1990s is not only the last year before the beginning of the wars in former Yugoslavia, it is also the year in which multi-party elections were held in all republics of Yugoslavia. So twenty years later, where do things stand?

What is striking across the region is the endurance of a few parties in power. If we rank the countries by number of years out of 20 a party has been in power, we end up with the following:

1. Montenegro (DPS 20 of 20, 100%)

Montenegro’s DPS clearly wins the competition with not losing power once since 1990. It has only seen genuine threats to its power come from within.Prospects for continued rule of the DPS are good, once more change might only come from within.

2. Kosovo (LDK, 8 of 8, 100%)

Rugova’s LDK has been a member of a coalition government ever since the establishment of elected Kosovo institutions in 2002. However, as a coalition partner, it was never dominant during that period and it’s fortunes have declined steadily, being no longer the largest party. If we add the 1990s, when the LDK dominated until 1997 absolutely among Albanian voters, dominance of the LDK fits the larger regional pattern.

3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ & SDA, 18 of 20, 90%)

Bosnia is tricky with a political system shaped by three distinct electorates with little cross-ethnic voting. HDZ and SDA have managed to be in power for 18 of the past 20 years, only being out of power less than two years in 2001/2 when the short lived Alliance for Change governed. Among Croat voters, the only real challengers to HDZ came from within, in particular since 2006 with the creation of HDZ1990. The persistence of SDA in power is less due to its unchallenged dominance, but due the coalition building dynamics in Bosnia. It has now a number of challenges, some older (SDP, SBiH), others more recent such as the SBB BiH, the party of the owner of Avaz, Randoncic. The third in the original triumvirate of nationalists, SDS, has been in power considerably less time (13 of 20 years).

4. Croatia (HDZ 17 of 20, 85%)

The dominance of HDZ is a striking feature of Croatian politics, held in check by a strong opposition, at least over the past decade. The brief SDP interlude 2000-2003 was also transformative in helping to shift Croatian political discourse towards EU integration. The popularity of President Josipovic suggests that HDZ’s days in power might be numbered.

5. Serbia (SPS 12/15 of 20, 60-75%)

SPS is the survivor among the long-lasting parties in power. Having had complete control for a decade, it came back to support the DSS led minority government 2004-2007 and as a junior partner in 2008. It also transformed itself so that now its president Ivica Dacic sometimes seems like one of the most progressive members of government. It’s also the only dominant party which has been in power both as a junior and as a senior partner.

6. Slovenia (LDS 12 of 20, 60%)

After having dominated governments continuously for 12 years, it is now a small party, eclipsed by others. Thus, this dominant party does not look like making a come back.

7. Macedonia (SDSM 10 of 20 and VMRO 8 of 20, 50%)

Macedonia has had the least clear pattern of a dominant party in the region, with the Social Democrats only governing for half the time. VMRO governed for nearly as long and the sometimes authoritarian reflexes of VMRO under Gruevski suggest that they are on their way to eclipse SDSM for the total duration in power.

Looking at the countries of former Yugoslavia, it is remarkable to which degree a few parties have dominated for most of the period since the first multi-party elections. This dominance has overall declined since the 1990s, but is still not broken in parts of the region. Thus, unlike in Central and Eastern Europe, governments were often booted out for either corruption or due painful reforms, parties in former Yugoslavia have overall been more successful in clinging to power, often with not so good results for the country.  What is encouraging is that with a few exceptions, no single party is so firmly in control that it could not lose power at the next elections.

4 Responses to The unbearable lightness of being in power: 20 years multi-party democracy in former Yugoslavia

  1. Brian Day says:

    A very useful review. Has the electorate settled for mediocre politics for the sake of peace? Or does the current status simply reflect deep divisions in society? Is it an unhappy compromise. It’s got to be better than war.

  2. Rob Miller says:

    The possible changes seem just as undesirable, though. Here in Bosnia, for example, I certainly don’t see how a political system dominated (as much as it is possible to dominate the Bosnian system, that is) by Radončić’s SBB-BiH would be any more democratic or effective than one dominated by the HDZ and SDA—surely it could only mean a slide into Berlusconi-esque farce?

  3. Filip Vasić says:

    In Czech Republic, the ruling ODS has also been in power for 12 out of 18 years and will form the new coalition government again.

  4. Pingback: All Around the World News

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