By Valentin Stamov
The economic recession determined an eventful political year in the SEE region in 2012 and the first half of 2013. Parliamentary, presidential and local elections, impeachment process, no-confidence votes and a new EU member in the face of Croatia were the features of the political picture in the region. Most of the countries ended up with left-wing governments as a result of the harsh economic conditions. General elections were held in Albania, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria amid mass pro-test rallies. In Albania, Montenegro and Romania the leftist parties won the elections and formed cabinets.
In Bulgaria, the centre-right party GERB won a slim victory in the snap elections but failed to secure enough seats in parliament to govern alone. A Cabinet, backed by the Socialists’ Coalition for Bulgaria and the ethnic Turks’ Movement for Rights and Freedoms, was set up.
The Alliance for a European Albania led by the Socialist Party achieved a landslide victory in Albania’s parliamentary elections held in June 2013. According to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) the elections were conducted with respect for basic freedoms but the killing of a party supporter in the town of Lac, northwestern Albania, and other isolated cases of violence raised concerns about the state of democracy in the country.
In December 2012 the Montenegrin parliament voted into office the country’s new cabinet headed by Milo Djukanovic, after his centre-left coalition won the general elections. In his speech before parliament Djukanovic pledged to lead Montenegro towards EU and NATO membership and to accelerate the fight against corruption and organised crime.
Elections for the largely ceremonial presidential post in Montenegro took place in April 2013. The country’s incumbent president Filip Vujanovic won and will serve a third term in office. Vujanovic was the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Socialists.
In 2012 Romania saw anti-government pro-tests, a resignation of the prime minister, a successful non-confidence vote, local elections, a national referendum on the impeachment of the president and parliamentary elections. In February 2012, Romania’s prime minister Emil Boc of the Democratic Liberal Party decided to resign, following several weeks of anti-government protests across the country. The demonstrations were against the tough austerity measures which have hurt Romanians’ living standards. The measures were demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a multi-billion dollar loan. The protesters also demanded the resignation of president Traian Basescu and that led to a national referendum on his impeachment in July 2012. Basescu survived the referendum due to low voter turnout, even though more than 87% of the votes were against him.
Following the general elections held in December 2012, Romania’s parliament approved the cabinet line-up proposed by prime minister Victor Ponta, leader of the left-wing Social Democratic Party.
The political turbulence in Romania is likely to hinder structural reforms, jeopardise fiscal consolidation and is credit negative for the country, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
In May 2012 Serbia held combined presidential and parliamentary elections. The vote was preceded by protest rallies against the unfavourable socioeconomic environment and the widespread corruption. The protests were organised by the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Following the elections SNS got 73 seats in the country’s new legislature while the alliance led by the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (DS) garnered 67 seats.
SNS won the presidential vote in May 2012, as well, after its candidate Tomislav Nikolic defeated the incumbent Boris Tadic by a narrow margin in the runoff. The ballot results showed that Nikolic, who is also SNS’s founder and president, had 49.54% of the votes compared to 47.31% for outgoing president Boris Tadic.
The Slovenian political life featured a rejection of the premier-designate, a successful no-confidence vote and presidential elections in 2012 and the beginning of 2013. Slovenia’s government crisis began in September 2011 when the parliament voted out the cabinet led by Borut Pahor in a confidence vote. That led to snap elections in December 2011. The crisis deepened after the winner in the vote, Ljubljana’s mayor Zoran Jankovic, was rejected by the parliament in January 2012. The situation cooled down in February 2012 when the Slovenian parliament endorsed the centre-right cabinet of prime minister Janez Jansa. However, only a year later the parliament confirmed Alenka Bratusek, interim leader of the centre-left Positive Slovenia (PS) party, as prime minister after ousting Janez Jansa in a no-confidence vote.
In December 2012 the former prime minister Borut Pahor won the country’s presidential vote with a landslide against incumbent Danilo Turk.
No-confidence votes marked the political landscape in Macedonia and Moldova in 2012 and in the first half of 2013. In Macedonia, the government led by prime minister Nikola Gruevski survived in October 2012 a no-confidence vote for its policy towards the ethnic Albanian minority in the country. The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), led by former president Branko Crvenkovski, filed the no-confidence motion, accusing the government of stirring tension between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, who account for a quarter of the country’s population.
In Moldova, the no-confidence vote succeeded and the premier Vlat Filat was replaced by his colleague from the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) Nicolae Timofti in May 2013. Filat, now president of PLDM, lost a no-confidence vote sought by the opposition Communists on corruption charges in March 2013.
Bosnia’s Serb Republic
In Bosnia’s Serb Republic, the government, led by Aleksandar Djombic, resigned in February 2013 because it could not cushion the effects of the economic downturn, including the rising unemployment in the country. In March 2013 Bosnia’s Serb Republic parliament voted into office the new cabinet headed by Zeljka Cvijanovic.
Croatia’s accession to the EU on July 1, 2013 was met with little enthusiasm because of the economic instability both in the union and in the country. The Croatian economy has been in recession since the beginning of the global economic downturn in 2009 with unemployment rates reaching the record-high 15.8% in 2012. Less than 44% of Croatians took part in a national referendum on EU accession in January 2012 and 66.27% of the voters backed the country’s membership in the union. According to politicians and analysts the factors for the low turnout include the lack of interest on the part of the Croatian diaspora, the crisis in the eurozone and an election surfeit having in mind the parliamentary elections at end-2011.
Tough times ahead
The economic development of the SEE countries will determine the political stability there in 2013. It will be hard for the countries’ governments to survive a whole term as economic instability and high unemployment continue to put pressure on the living standard of the population. The future of the current Bulgarian government, for one, seems most uncertain, with protesters vowing to continue to hold until its resignation. In order to improve their economies and to dampen social tension, the SEE governments will have to accelerate the fight against corruption and organised crime.
The economic slowdown in SEE, coupled with high unemployment, widespread corruption and red tape, has created a favourable environment for the emergence of new political leaders, including more radical ones. And even though the overall economic situation in the region is expected to improve, the social discontent accumulated since the beginning of the global downturn is expected to shape another busy political year.