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Yugoslavia: Serbia Electing A New Parliament

  • Jolyon Naegele

Campaigning in Serbia has ended in advance of legislative elections Saturday that are expected to eliminate Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party from the country's centers of power. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele takes a look at the upcoming Serbian elections.

Prague, 22 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The campaigning for Saturday's (Dec. 23) Serbian parliamentary elections has been brief and low-key. That's largely because the outcome of the vote seems a foregone conclusion -- a landslide victory for the 18-party anti-Slobodan Milosevic coalition of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS. Pre-election projections give DOS between 70 and 80 percent of the vote and Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists a little more than 15 percent.

Eight parties and coalitions will be competing for 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. Six-and-a-half million registered voters will be able to cast their ballots at some 8,700 polling stations.

In contrast to the Yugoslav federal elections two months ago (Sept 24) -- which Milosevic's Socialists tried to steal through electoral fraud and by barring Western monitors -- these elections will be considerably more transparent. The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe -- which Yugoslavia recently rejoined -- is fielding 335 monitors, while the Serb non-governmental Center for Free Elections and Democracy is supplying 12,000 monitors, many fresh from their experience of the federal elections.

In addition, ballot boxes this time will be -- literally --transparent. Every voter will have to sign a voter list, and have his or her hand sprayed with invisible ink in an effort to prevent multiple voting.

Zoran Djindjic, DOS campaign manager and candidate for prime minister of Serbia, was the sole speaker at the coalition's final campaign rally in Novi Belgrade last night (Wednesday). The meeting ended only a short time before the start of the obligatory 48-hour period of pre-election silence.

Djindjic restated DOS's four-point program for recovery.

"A state of law, meaning no revenge and no amnesties. Second, a successful economy -- fair work for fair pay, fair work for a decent living. Third, social policy as the main state program so that the transition that awaits us is not accomplished at the expense of the poorest [members of the population]. They have already paid too much over the past 10 years. Fourth, the decentralization of power."

Djindjic called on Serbs, above all, to change themselves by establishing a clean, uncorrupted and capable government that can turn the country into what he called a "model of a modern, organized state."

In words tailored to a public weary of war after four bloody conflicts in 10 years, Djindjic declared: "Let's try to win in peace, we don't want wars any more. Let's make the 21st century an era of peace in the Balkans."

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said this week the public's expectations of change are immense and that the main problems can only be tackled once the Serbian parliament is elected and a new government is formed. In Kostunica's words, "the entire process of democratic changes will have to wait until Serbia is strengthened."

There has been much speculation about an ongoing contest of wills and political styles between Djindjic and Kostunica, which could come into the open after the elections.

Once the voting results are known, current Serbian President Milan Milutinovic -- indicted by The Hague tribunal for war crimes -- is likely to be forced out of office.

What's more, the Yugoslav presidency would cease to exist and Kostunica would be out of a job if Montenegro, the smaller of the two constituent Yugoslav republics, goes ahead with its threatened secession.

But Kostunica insists he is not considering running for president of Serbia. He says it is more important to elect a new parliament as the foundation of a democratic transformation. Kostunica, a constitutional law professor, says the post of president is less important, because, in his words, "democracy does not depend on personalities but on institutions."

The music at last night's DOS rally was classical, including solo recitals by a violinist and an opera singer, and a chorus singing an Orthodox hymn "God is just." The mood was in clear contrast to the nationalist and populist themes of Milosevic's Socialists.

As in previous campaigns, Milosevic's Socialist Party exploited popular fears of the disintegration of the Yugoslav state as its main theme. Speaking at a rally in Belgrade last night, Socialist General Secretary Zoran Andjelkovic warned of possible attempts to grant republic status to at least two ethnically diverse regions -- Serbia's Vojvodina in the north and the Presevo Valley in the south. "We are," he said, "for a united Serbia." But while pledging to keep the country whole, Andjelkovic also tried to show a kinder, gentler Socialist face than Milosevic's.

"Our program and our candidates are not against anyone. These are candidates for a new era who are for Yugoslavia, a Yugoslavia of equal republics, in the best interests of the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro -- Serbs and Montenegrins -- that's what we favor - and they [DOS] probably oppose. We are the guarantee that Yugoslavia will continue to exist and these candidates are for the existence of Yugoslavia."

Yugoslavia's territorial integrity is threatened on several fronts -- Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosovo and the Presevo Valley. Once the Serbian legislative elections are behind him -- and the Socialists finally vacate the republic's ministries they have clung to since Milosevic's ouster in October -- Kostunica will face the formidable task of keeping the Yugoslav federation together.

Montenegro will hold a referendum on independence next year, but Kostunica says he will push for negotiating a new relationship, probably a looser confederation, before any plebiscite is held. The Montenegrin public remains divided over the wisdom of independence from Belgrade.

The insurgency by ethnic Albanians along southernmost Serbia's boundary with Kosovo has the potential to explode into another bloody conflict. One major reason is the current concentration there of Serb Interior Ministry troops, including special forces -- units with notorious reputations for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo last year. Although these troops are under strict orders to behave themselves, some have threatened the local Albanian civilian population with extermination and it would not take much to provoke them to carry out their threat.

Speaking to the UN Security Council this week, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic warned that the Presevo Valley rebellion poses a threat to Kosovo and to Yugoslavia's democratic reforms. It could, he said, have "unforeseen consequences."

"Such a course of events may not only aggravate the situation in Kosovo but may also jeopardize the democratic process in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Kosovo's status remains unresolved. On a visit earlier this month to Rome, Kostunica did concede that for Kosovo to return to Serbia it would have to have considerable autonomy. But he seemed to ignore the refusal of the province's ethnic Albanians -- who make up over 90 percent of its population -- to consider ever again being subordinate to Belgrade.

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