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Yugoslavia: Future Depends On Opposition

Yugoslavia's opposition parties have some difficult decisions to make, now that presidential and parliamentary elections are set for September. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports the opposition remains uncertain over how to proceed in spite of opinion polls that say together they could oust President Slobodan Milosevic.

Prague, 28 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Public opinion polls suggest that if Serbian opposition parties were to campaign on a joint list they would trounce Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling coalition in elections set for 24 September.

But that is unlikely to happen, thanks largely to the main opposition party: Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). According to statements today, the SPO is likely to use a threat by Montenegro to ignore the vote as an opportunity to boycott the polls itself.

SPO representative Tomislav Jeremic explains his party's reasoning. He says that holding "federal" elections only in the Serbian part of Yugoslavia (without Montenegro) would be a contradiction in terms:

"The federal elections and the elections for president of Yugoslavia, are only possible if both federal units participate. Without Montenegro's participation, it can be nothing but a farce, a base provocation, and lead to the break-up of the union of Serbia and Montenegro with tragic consequences."

Montenegrin leaders have all but ruled out participating in the polls in order to protest recent constitutional changes that severely diminish Montenegro's share of power in federal bodies.

A top adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, Miodrag Vukovic, tells RFE/RL that Montenegro does not recognize the legitimacy or legality of the changes enabling the early elections and giving Milosevic the opportunity to run for up to two more four-year terms. Vukovic says the Montenegrin government will continue to work for a peaceful political and economic emancipation of Montenegro from Belgrade.

Draskovic's opposition rival, Zoran Djindjic, however, says he is still holding out hope that the SPO will come around to supporting a common opposition candidate -- even if that candidate is Draskovic:

"If Mr. Draskovic were to express the desire to run on our joint opposition list, I'm sure he'd get our support as, according to public opinion, he has a chance of beating Milosevic. He'd have the support of all the others without any reservation." Djindjic's concern that the opposition will be finished if it doesn't stand in the vote are seconded by another opposition leader, Democratic Party head Vojislav Kostunica. Kostunica issued a statement in Belgrade today warning that without a united opposition, the opposition and country will, in his word, "perish."

Kostunica says the changes to the constitution and electoral laws presaged yesterday's announcement of early election. He also says the recent discovery by the government of "internal enemies and spies," as well as increased repression against dissidents and the stifling of private media are all signs of a likely post-election crackdown in the event Milosevic and his allies win.

A former ally of Milosevic, ex-constitutional court justice Slobodan Vucetic, tells RFE/RL that Milosevic's calling early elections is a political and legal scandal:

"He is threatened from all sides. He is isolated from the world, and unable to manage the economic and social situation in the country. He has turned to aggression, repression, the police, and the media. He's called elections at the worst time for his opponents, who are relatively weak."

The Socialist Party of Serbia, meanwhile, has confirmed that Milosevic will run as its presidential candidate in the elections. In an expected announcement today, the party formally approved Milosevic's candidacy.