Uphill task for Serbia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 December, 2000, 12:00am

As Nato and those who demanded democracy in Yugoslavia learnt, former president Slobodan Milosevic is not a man who likes to quit. But the former dictator, the man who led his country into four disastrous wars and turned it into an international pariah, now appears at last to have entered the political wilderness. The final vestiges of his power were swept away by the plebiscite in Serbia on Saturday.

For the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), the victory represents the most significant milestone on its road to power. Yet for Prime Minister-elect Zoran Djindjic there will be little time to celebrate. The tasks ahead for Serbia are immense - a fact recognised in the pre-election declarations of the DOS. And while Milosevic's socialists may no longer be a barrier to progress, there is a danger that the DOS - a loose alliance of 18 diverse parties - may unravel now that it has lost its unifying purpose: the removal of Milosevic. It is significant that as soon as the new political landscape was apparent, leaders began talking less about the more difficult tasks of political and economic reform and more about putting Milosevic on trial.

Milosevic must indeed face a trial and his cronies must be removed from government; but it will be a mistake for the new government to attempt to consolidate the DOS alliance in this way. The electorate is likely to be unforgiving if they cannot see economic problems brought to the fore and tackled.

The Government must also, as it has promised, introduce constitutional changes to prevent any future administration abusing power as Milosevic abused it. It must form a new relationship with ethnic Albanians clamouring for independence in Kosovo. More than this there is the question of Serbia's uneasy relationship with Montenegro.

The DOS has vowed it will start work rapidly to breathe new life into the country after more than a decade of corruption, inept economic management and war. It now has the mandate to make fundamental changes. It is to be hoped that the new government does not allow the ghost of Milosevic's abuses to distract it from the most pressing issues.