A Serbian parliamentary committee yesterday ratcheted up the power struggle between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the pro-reform forces led by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The committee expelled all 45 parliamentary deputies of Kostunica's party from the Serbian parliament. As RFE/RL reports, the move comes just days after the Supreme Court overturned a previous ban but also follows in the wake of the expulsion of the party from the ruling DOS coalition.
Prague, 30 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Virtually since the fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime nearly two years ago, a gulf has been developing between Milosevic's successor, constitutional lawyer and Serbian nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, on the one side, and pro-reform parties led by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on the other.
But the decision by the Serbian parliament's administrative committee yesterday to expel all 45 deputies representing Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is considerably more sweeping than previous moves to isolate the DSS.
Two months ago, the committee recommended replacing 50 deputies -- 23 of them from DSS -- for having repeatedly boycotted votes on reform bills and for preventing a quorum from being formed.
On 12 June, parliament voted to replace 39 deputies, including 21 from DSS. All 45 DSS deputies responded by handing in their parliamentary identity cards and launching a boycott of the chamber and a court challenge to the dismissals.
DOS, the ruling coalition of 18 parties, proceeded to replace the 45 expelled deputies with 35 others who had been on DOS candidate lists but had failed to get enough votes to get elected in the December 2000 parliamentary elections.
Last week, the Constitutional Court overturned the 12 June expulsions. DSS was elated, and predicted its deputies would return to parliament in a matter of days. But the party's euphoria was short-lived. The DOS responded to the court's decision by expelling DSS from the coalition.
When parliament's administrative committee met yesterday, its first task was to comply with the Constitutional Court by recommending the reinstatement of the 21 DSS deputies whom parliament had dismissed last month. But then it proceeded to act in compliance with the DOS's expulsion of DSS and recommended the removal of all 45 DSS deputies from parliament. They would be replaced by representatives of the remaining 17 DOS member parties, arguing that the DOS won the elections in 2000 as a coalition of parties. Parliament need only affirm the recommendation for it to take effect.
Not including the 45 DSS deputies, the DOS has 131 deputies in the 250-seat Serbian parliament.
The DOS's parliamentary whip, Cedomir Jovanovic, said, "DSS has lost its seats in parliament because it completely abandoned the election program it had campaigned for." And he ruled out as "absurd" any future cooperation between the DOS and DSS. "The Democratic Party of Serbia perceives political opponents in all its coalition partners. It expends far more energy fighting us than it does the parties of the former [Milosevic] regime. Our personal relations [have reached such a low level as to] rule out any future cooperation," Jovanovic said.
And the head of a regional ethnic Hungarian party, the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, Deputy Serbian Prime Minister Jozsef Kasa, said the dismissals should have been undertaken much earlier. He predicted that they "will either lead to the undisturbed resumption of democratic reforms or else to early parliamentary elections," which he said will result in greater support for pro-reform parties.
Another DOS parliamentarian, Djordje Mamula, is the deputy chairman of Djindjic's Democratic Party and the man in charge of redistributing the confiscated DSS mandates. He defended the confiscation. "I must say that the confiscation of mandates is very common in Europe. This was confirmed by French Ambassador [Gabriel-Yves] Keller. At the same time, I know of no case where this has gone to a Constitutional Court. But I think [the administrative committee] has resolved this seriously, constitutionally, and legally, in accordance with international documents. They say we're going to Europe. So who says we aren't going to Europe?" Mamula said.
But DSS is outraged. DSS Deputy Chairman Dragan Marsicanin is threatening to engage the international community in the dispute. "We won't be forced into anything. We will use all our rights, and we are considering turning to international institutions," Marsicanin said.
Another DSS leader, Dejan Mihajlov, termed the confiscations "scandalous and legally ridiculous," and accused the administrative committee of creating "legal chaos leading to parliament's loss of legitimacy."
Moreover, Mihajlov said all decisions made by parliament since 12 June, including the reconstruction of the Serbian government, are illegal because they were voted on by the 35 replacement deputies whose mandates he said had never taken legal effect. "The Democratic Party of Serbia is launching legal action against all those who participated in the promulgation of the illegal and unconstitutional decisions. We fought against election theft under Milosevic and will do so now. All those who dare to deny one of the most cherished rights, the right to vote, will have to be accountable," Mihajlov said.
DSS parliamentarian Dragan Jocic described the committee's decision as worse than any ever made under the Milosevic regime. Jocic accused Djindjic, his party, and allies of annulling the votes cast in Serbia's last parliamentary elections in December 2000 and of threatening the constitutional charter on replacing the Yugoslav Federal Republic later this year with the new, looser entity of Serbia-Montenegro.
One independent observer, Milan Simic of the Yugoslav Council of Lawyers, said the committee's ruling was a political, rather than a legal, decision. "The DOS coalition has taken political responsibility, and this will be resolved in elections when we will be able to judge whether this was a decision that is sellable [to the voters]," Simic said.
Regardless of how the legal challenge to the confiscations turns out, the stage is set for further conflict between Serbia's two main rivals. Kostunica, whose post as president of Yugoslavia will vanish with the dissolution of the country -- probably later this year -- continues to mull over whether to run for president of Serbia.
The elections are just two months away and the DOS has already chosen its candidate: Djindjic's close ally, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus.