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Yugoslavia: Serbian Parliament Endorses Milosevic's Electoral Changes

The Yugoslav parliament has endorsed recent constitutional changes and election laws that would allow President Slobodan Milosevic to be re-elected by popular vote and diminish Montenegro's role in the federal parliament. RFE/RL's Alexandra Poolos reports.

Prague, 25 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslavia's federal parliament yesterday passed new election laws that implement constitutional amendments that experts say will allow President Slobodan Milosevic to extend his grip on power.

The laws -- a package that follows constitutional changes adopted by parliament earlier this month -- define new election procedures under which a president can be elected by a simple majority in a popular vote, regardless of voter turnout.

The most controversial clause of the new election laws will permit Milosevic to be re-elected even if less than half of the electorate votes.

Experts say the changes undermine opponents of Milosevic -- Montenegro's pro-Western government and Serbian opposition parties -- who were planning to boycott the next presidential election to protest the constitutional amendments. They say the amendments are illegal.

Earlier this month, the parliament adopted constitutional changes that both paved the way for Milosevic to run again for president and downgraded Montenegro's status in the Yugoslav federation. Under previous regulations, the Yugoslav president was elected by parliament. Now, Milosevic will be able to stay in office for two more four-year terms.

Analysts in Serbia say all that remains is for Milosevic to announce an election date. Federal parliamentary and local elections are already scheduled for this autumn, and although Milosevic's term does not run out until next year, it is increasingly likely that he will call for early presidential elections.

Vladimir Goati, a political science professor at the Institute of Social Science in Belgrade, says the new laws work to keep Milosevic in power and to "diminish the number and the strength of his enemies." Goati told our correspondent:

"By changing the law without consensus with that is, agreement by Montenegro, the regime pushed Montenegrin leadership aside. And in that way, in my opinion, the Yugoslav regime in Belgrade avoided the possibility of a coalition between a democratically oriented region in Montenegro and the opposition in Serbia."

Goati says the new laws and constitutional changes ensure that even if Milosevic were to have competition in a presidential election, he would still easily win in spite of the strong anti-government attitude among the Serbian public. That's because, he says, Milosevic now controls the administration of all elections. Goati says that under current laws there is no possibility in Serbia for free and fair voting:

"In this situation, Milosevic will win against any candidate because the outcome will be decided by the organizer. This is electoral fraud, or rigging. The opposition has no institutional or political power to control the election. And the outcome of the election is absolutely in the hands of the regime."

Montenegrin officials and leaders of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement say they will boycott the election. But one opposition group, the Alliance for Change, says it may try its chances and run a candidate against Milosevic.

Predrag Simic, a political adviser to Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, says the new laws are already working to divide the Serbian opposition and alienate it from the pro-Western leadership in Montenegro.

He says the only real option for the opposition is to boycott. If the opposition were to participate in the elections, he emphasizes, it would legitimize constitutional changes that were made illegally in Yugoslavia:

"To accept the constitutional changes which were passed in an unconstitutional manner with the absence of representation from Montenegro and with the absence of the opposition -- most of the opposition has been emptied from the federal parliament -- simply would mean to play under the rules that are changed day by day, week by week, only in order to preserve the existing power structure in this country."

Simic says the constitutional changes were preceded by earlier repressive acts in Serbia, including a crackdown on independent media, anti-protest policies and assassination attempts on opposition leaders. He says that by boycotting the elections, the opposition would at least say "no" to Milosevic's policies.

But even a boycott by the Serbian opposition and Montenegro would almost certainly amount to little more than words. Milosevic holds all the leverage in current Yugoslav politics, and if he does call for elections, there is not much anyone -- including the West -- can do to stop him. Aside from making strong protests against the constitutional changes, the West is left only with the option of not recognizing the electoral results.

Western multilateral organizations might also attempt to monitor the electoral process. But Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna, said today that although the OSCE was considering monitoring the potential elections, she doubted whether monitors would even be allowed into the country.