A power struggle is fermenting in Belgrade, where Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia is threatening to form a shadow Serbian government. The threat comes in response to a move last week by the ruling DOS coalition to replace 50 lawmakers in the Serbian parliament -- nearly half of them from Kostunica's party -- who had blocked reforms by failing to turn up to vote.
Prague, 27 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is accusing the leadership of the fragile ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition of violating Serbia's Constitution.
DOS -- which has 176 lawmakers in the 250-seat Serbian parliament -- comprises 18 parties, including DSS. On 24 May, the DOS leadership decided to replace 50 of its deputies -- including 23 of DSS's 45 members -- for repeatedly boycotting votes on key reform bills and keeping parliament from reaching a quorum.
DSS has repeatedly withdrawn its participation in the Yugoslav federal and Serbian republic governments and has boycotted the DOS coalition.
DSS Vice Chairman Dragan Marsicanin called the DOS decision to replace the 50 deputies a "rape of rights."
"There will be legal consequences if the political decision by the DOS leadership is carried out by the administrative board of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The Democratic Party of Serbia will consider Serbia's parliament illegitimate just like all its organs, starting with the government of the Republic of Serbia," Marsicanin said.
Marsicanin said DSS will withdraw its members from the management boards of state-owned companies. He also said the party will use all legal means to annul the decision, including challenging it in court. In the meantime, he said, DSS will set up a shadow government as an alternative to the government of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Marsicanin added, "Our goals are early [Serbian] republic elections and the establishment of a democratic state where the rule of law is applied."
Djindjic, in deciding to combat the chronic absenteeism, chose to replace the 50 lawmakers with other DOS candidates who failed to secure seats in the December 2000 general elections. As a result, DSS will lose 23 sitting deputies but gain 13 -- its last remaining reserve candidates -- resulting in a net loss of 10 DSS deputies.
Seven replacements would be from Djindjic's own Democratic Party, giving it a total of 55 seats. Two other parties would gain significantly: Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic's Democratic Alternative and Justice Minister Vladan Batic's Christian Democratic Party of Serbia, each of which would increase its presence by three deputies. Batic said Djindjic's decision to replace absent lawmakers is justifiable, adding that, "It is immoral for lawmakers to receive salaries without coming to sessions of parliament."
Cedomir Jovanovic heads the DOS faction in the Serbian parliament and is a leading member of Djindjic's party. "DOS's leadership is completely free to dispose of the mandates of the deputies in view of the fact that they made the decision on these people running as candidates in the elections more than a year ago. I think that, legally speaking, this is very correctly formulated," Jovanovic said.
But Kostunica's DSS is not the only DOS member opposed to the replacements. The Social Democrats, who will lose three seats in the shift, have also condemned the decision. In addition, two small regional parties from Vojvodina would each lose one seat -- in each case dropping from six seat to five. And the Serbian Resistance Movement would lose its sole seat, becoming the only one of DOS's 18 member parties not to have a seat in parliament.
The Belgrade-based nongovernmental Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) is challenging DOS's intention to replace the 50 lawmakers, saying such a move has no foundation in the law on the election of national deputies. It also says DOS is not a formal legal entity and is not registered as such by the Serbian Justice Ministry.
Marko Blagojevic is a member of CESID's executive board. He said: "This is an opportunity for a different application of the coalition agreement for those parties that favor a unified democratic position for Serbia. And to the extent that I see that in addition to [applying] the law on the election of the national deputies, one preferential point could be the [coalition] agreement itself, which regulates [the coalition's] internal relations as well as [relations] among DOS's member parties."
Kostunica, who has called the Serb parliament an "invalidated" institution, is resisting any attempt to reduce his party's power. On 24 May, the Yugoslav president sent a letter to DOS leaders, saying voluntary absence from a parliamentary session is a legitimate form of political behavior. DSS is generally opposed to DOS coalition-government policies, ranging from economic reforms to cooperation with the United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Serbian parliamentary elections are not due for another 2 1/2 years, although they may come as early as the end of this year. Elections are due late this year to replace outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Milan Milutinovic, who three years ago was indicted by The Hague tribunal but is expected to remain in office behind the shroud of immunity until his mandate expires.
DSS is increasingly falling into the role of an opposition force: for nearly two years the domain of extremists, as in ousted President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, his wife Mira Markovic's left-wing radical JUL, and Vojislav Seselj's SRS. Any alliance between DSS and these extremist parties, however, would likely result in a swift decline in the party's credibility at home and, more importantly, abroad.