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Serbia: Political Deal Opens Way To Reform

A sudden deal between Serbia's ruling parties appears to have resolved several obstacles to political development. As RFE/RL reports, the impasse over 45 parliamentary mandates is over and the election law has been changed in a bid to ensure the election of a president when a new round of voting is held on 8 December.

Prague, 6 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An accord reached by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his arch-rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, means that after months of political stagnation, Serbia can start moving forward toward political and economic reform.

The agreement reached yesterday appears to have resolved a year-long impasse in parliament between deputies of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the ruling reform coalition, Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS).

In June, Djindjic ousted all 45 deputies from Kostunica's party for having repeatedly boycotted parliament and thus stymied attempts to institute reform. Parliament had not met since.

But just hours after the deal was signed, all 45 expelled deputies were back in their seats when parliament convened yesterday.

DSS Deputy Chairman Dragan Marsicanin insists there were no conditions linked to the return of the 45 DSS mandates. He was uncharacteristically upbeat in his assessment of the coming months: "To the extent that parliament is able to undertake its regular work, we will [be able to] attend to the law and gradually, for the first time in a long time, Serbia will have the forces necessary to emerge from the smoldering political crisis."

For his part, Djindjic says the agreement means the Serbian parliament will be able to function without difficulty: "The government has 50 bills which are prepared and, I think, need to be enacted into law in the coming year, which means one law a week. And that should result in parliament operating efficiently and I hope that having reached this agreement we can reach an accord on parliament working efficiently."

Djindjic says the DOS-DSS dispute had not blocked conclusion of work on the constitutional charter for the future successor state to Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro. And he says there should be no compromise when it comes to agreeing on the functions of the new state's institutions.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Belgrade today praised the political agreement. Spokesman Laurent Rouy says the accord is of "fundamental significance for the normalization of the most important institutions in Serbia and for a successful solution of key legal and constitutional initiatives."

Yugoslav Foreign Minister and Chairman of a DOS member party, the Civic League of Serbia, Goran Svilanovic, expressed relief: "I'm glad about one thing, that parliament, the People's Assembly of Serbia, will finally be able to work normally with all that entails, so that those laws which were a part of our election program -- what we call 'reform laws' -- will be adopted in a democratic procedure in which parties and coalitions will participate in pushing through those amendments which essentially have one thing in common -- the speedy transformation of the country."

The head of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Nenad Canak, a member of DOS, welcomed the accord: "This truce is good news because parliament serves to work and not to manufacture scandals."

Shortly after the deal was signed, parliament approved by a wide margin changes to prevent a repetition of the fiasco in presidential elections last month, when less than 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots for president in the second round, thereby invalidating the outcome. Speaker of the Serbian parliament Natasa Mitic today called new Serbian presidential elections for 8 December.

A 50 percent minimum voter participation will no longer be required in the runoff. But majority participation will still be required in the first round, and since the last first round in September attracted only about 55 percent of registered voters -- and the second round some 45 percent -- it remains questionable whether enough voters will go to the polls in the next first round when asked to vote for the third time in less than three months.

In the previous two rounds, Kostunica took a strong first place. He is expected to run again, but the runner-up in the last vote, reformist Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, is not. The only other declared candidate for the new elections so far is ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who placed a strong third in the first round.

Mitic says prospective candidates must declare their candidacy by 17 November, with the signatures of 10,000 citizens.

The current Serbian president, Milan Milutinovic, a holdover from the era of Slobodan Milosevic, leaves office at the end of this year to face a three-year-old indictment by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague over his role in the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, in Montenegro, where parliamentary elections last month strengthened President Milo Djukanovic's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Djukanovic has decided not to run in next month's presidential elections. He will instead head the new Montenegrin government as prime minister, while his former prime minister, Filip Vujanovic, will become speaker of parliament.

DPS party member Miodrag Vukovic explains why his coalition is nominating Vujanovic: "By his election to the post of speaker of parliament with the help of all parliamentary clubs, we can once again create a house that is a strong and responsible chamber, a place where, above all, Montenegro's legal system will be in accord with Europe's legal order."

The opposition terms Djukanovic's move to the premiership a "step back" and speculates that it is most likely the result of EU pressure resulting from an Italian magistrate's ongoing investigation into allegations that Djukanovic smuggled large quantities of cigarettes into Italy in the early 1990s.

DPS does not directly deny the EU pressure, but party spokesman Igor Luksic prefers to focus on the issue of responsibility: "In the course of our campaign we sent the citizens a message that it is necessary to build up a European Montenegro, which means [accepting] absolute responsibility resulting from absolute victory [in last month's elections]. That means that Mr. Djukanovic will be prime minister for the next four years. That means he will be taking on perhaps the most difficult post in Montenegro and that he decided that his priority in response to the mandate given us [by the voters] is to resolve the socioeconomic problems of this country and other political priorities like implementing the Belgrade agreement [on a post-Yugoslav common state of Serbia-Montenegro]."

DPS officials said today Djukanovic will resign from the presidency within the next few days so that Vujanovic can give him a mandate to form a new Montenegrin government. The new speaker of parliament would temporarily take over the role of head of state until the 15 January inauguration of a successor, to be elected next month.