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Yugoslavia: High Court Ruling Voids Presidential Elections

Prague, 5 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The head of Yugoslavia's constitutional court has confirmed to RFE/RL that a court ruling last night voided the presidential elections held 11 days ago and has made a run-off vote this Sunday unnecessary.

Chief Justice Milutin Srdic told RFE/RL's Bulgarian service that means Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "can serve out his term." He says the president's term "still has months to run."

Milosevic's term was originally supposed to have expired in the middle of next year. But after the incumbent called early elections this summer, the opposition insisted his term come to an end with the election of a new president.

By all counts, Milosevic came in a distant second to opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica in the Sept. 24 election. The opposition says Kostunica won more than half the ballots, but the government-controlled federal electoral commission says Kostunica won only 48 percent of the vote, requiring a run-off on Sunday (Oct. 8).

Yesterday, the pro-Milosevic Federal Constitutional Court met in emergency session to hear claims by the opposition that the regime manipulated results by using a sophisticated computer program. The official Tanjug news agency later published a court statement announcing its unanimous decision to annul "a part" of the electoral procedure. According to the statement, the decision "related to the voting, the determining and publishing of the results" of the vote.

The court itself has not yet made an official announcement. But speaking to our correspondent this morning, Srdic says the decision means that the same candidates, and even new candidates, can participate in the new election:

"It means there will be entirely new elections for president from the beginning."

Kostunica says he fears the court ruling may be what he calls a "big trap." In his words, "there is no point in being euphoric."

According to Srdic, the court also let stand the Yugoslav government's claim of having won control of both houses of the federal parliament and the opposition's landslide victories in some 100 towns and cities in the same elections.

An officially banned Belgrade law professor, Dragor Hiber, vice president of the opposition Civic Alliance of Serbia, says the court did not have the authority to void the presidential election: "The Federal Constitutional Court has assumed jurisdiction over the elections. They (the judges) were asked to rule on the electoral commission's announcement (of the outcome), not to annul the elections. [This] can only be done by the electoral commission."

Hiber says the law on presidential elections stipulates that if an outcome is annulled, new elections must be held within 15 days.

Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic says Milosevic saw he could not win a second round against the will of a majority of the people. He now wants, Djindjic says, to create a different situation with totally new elections that will enable him to remain in power.