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Yugoslavia: In Belgrade, Kostunica-Djindjic Rivalry Worsens

A long-standing conflict between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has deepened considerably following the Serbian parliament's dismissal of 39 deputies for poor attendance, including 21 from Kostunica's party. As RFE/RL reports, all 45 of the party's lawmakers say they will boycott all sessions of parliament for the remainder of their terms in office.

Prague, 13 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- All 45 lawmakers of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, or DSS, were absent from today's session of the Serbian parliament after having walked out one by one and handing in their parliamentary identification cards yesterday.

The walkout was in response to parliament's approval of a recommendation by its Administrative Committee to replace 39 deputies, including 21 from DSS, who had frequently been absent from parliamentary sessions.

In addition to dismissing the deputies, parliament changed its rules so that, henceforth, a quorum requires one-third instead of one-half of all members of parliament.

Christian Democratic leader Milan Protic, a member of the ruling DOS coalition, said it is not a question of settling accounts but of holding deputies accountable. "DOS's presidium had no other choice but to persuade deputies to work as they are obliged to, to do what the citizens elected them to do, to work in the parliament of Serbia. The Democratic Party of Serbia did everything to ensure that it would come to this [their expulsion]," Protic said.

Parliament's Administrative Committee adopted without debate yesterday a report by Serbia's Electoral Commission. The commission recommended the appointment of 35 new lawmakers, including 13 from DSS, who were too far down on party lists in parliamentary elections 18 months ago to get elected, to replace the 39 expelled deputies. A shortage of remaining names from the party lists explains the reduction in replacements and the change in distribution of mandates among parties within the DOS coalition.

However, DSS said it will not replace the sacked lawmakers.

As a result of the boycotts, DSS's increasing popularity, and a growing tendency for DSS to vote with the opposition, DOS experienced a reduced parliamentary majority and thus an increased potential for a no-confidence vote in Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's government.

DSS is a member of the ruling DOS coalition in name only, having already withdrawn from the Serbian government last year. In recent weeks -- as the current threat to the party's deputies emerged -- the DSS began pulling its party members out of management positions in state-owned companies.

The DSS described the expulsions as illegal and said it will maintain the boycott until new elections are held.

The spokeswoman for the Democratic Center, Vesna Marjanovic, rejected DSS's call for early elections. "In our view, it is not at this moment a rational political solution, but a rational political goal," Marjanovic said.

Nevertheless, DSS is threatening strikes and demonstrations. It accuses the administrative committee of being a mirror image of DOS and says the Electoral Commission staff is just as fraudulent as it was under the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

DSS Deputy Chairman Dragan Marsicanin accused DOS of staging a "coup without weapons," alleging that a "totalitarian regime now rules Serbia" and that, "Parliament as an institution no longer has legitimacy."

Marsicanin said he will take all legal means, including appealing to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, to overturn the parliamentary expulsions.

The DSS absences were, in Kostunica's view, a legitimate democratic instrument to show dissatisfaction with the policies other parties were trying to pursue. However, the absences sometimes prevented a quorum or sufficient votes to pass legislation on economic and legal reforms or cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

For his part, Djindjic said the expulsions were intended to restore order, adding that deputies are paid for representing constituents and not for boycotting parliament.

Belgrade sociologist Stjepan Gredelj said the expulsions are a sign of the immaturity of parliamentary life in Serbia and play into the hands of antireform forces. He said they only further complicate the difficult situation in the country. "This certainly can lead to early elections. They've already been announced in Montenegro. I think consensus will slowly build up for early elections in Serbia. I don't think any variant is good because I think people are fed up with elections and voting, and because in fact, there'd be no solution or impact of the elections on those who are elected and everything would only continue to build up and ruin everything. The revival of parliamentarianism is a threat to Serbia," Gredelj said.

However, Marko Blagojevic, a member of the executive board of the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy, a nongovernmental organization, disagreed. He argued that the expulsions, by strengthening the rest of DOS, actually reduce the likelihood of early elections. "DOS has a majority in parliament and in the government. So my personal opinion is that we are a step further away from early elections. I think that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic clearly realized this," Blagojevic said.

Ognjen Pribicevic works for the Institute for Social Sciences in Belgrade and is an adviser to Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic. Pribicevic decried the expulsions as a catastrophe, since they imply that it was not democracy or votes by the public that brought down Milosevic nearly two years ago. "I think that gradually, political life is moving from parliamentary institutions to the market and the street. It's obvious. I'm afraid that this message will be devastating for political life because it neglects parliamentarianism and democracy so people will have to find some other ways for political struggle. And that is what worries me the most," Pribicevic said.

Now it will be up to the courts to review the dispute, but regardless of the outcome, Serbia's fledgling democracy will be no less fragile, as DSS and the other 17 parties in DOS seek to emasculate each other.

(The South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)