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South Slavic: August 17, 2000

17 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 30

What Future For Montenegrin Politics? Part I

Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge) we are going to discuss how to overcome the strong polarization in Montenegro after the recent changes in the constitution of Yugoslavia. Our guests are two Montenegrin top officials, one from the opposition [pro-Milosevic] Socialist People's Party (SNP), and the other from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) [of President Milo Djukanovic]. Our guest from Niksic is Zeljko Sturanovic, member of the presidency of the Democratic Party of Socialists, and from Podgorica Vuksan Simonovic, member of the steering committee of the Socialist People's Party. Part II will appear on 24 August, Part III on 31 August, and Part IV on 7 September.

The two strongest parties in Montenegro are poles apart regarding the recent constitutional changes in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. While the Democratic Party of Socialists considers that the equal status of Montenegro has been deeply affected and therefore refuses to accept those changes, the opposition Socialist People's Party insists that the equal status has not been called into question and that the constitutional changes were aimed at protecting the common state from those who are dismantling it. Mr. Simonovic, how do you explain your claim that the equal status of Montenegro within the federation has not been disrupted by the latest constitutional changes?

Vuksan Simonovic: We from the Socialist People's Party of Montenegro feel that the recent changes in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia create conditions for the democratic development of the federal state. However, I want to remind you that the course of political events has undoubtedly shown that the regime in Montenegro--contrary to Montenegrin and Yugoslav constitutions and encouraged by their foreign mentors--has been obstructing [the functioning of] the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for almost three years now. Their goal is to dissolve the Yugoslav federation.

As you already know, early general elections took place in 1998 in Montenegro. Soon after the elections, the law on the selection of federal deputies for the Upper House of the federal parliament was changed. That was an attempt to deny to the Socialist People's Party--the strongest opposition party in Montenegro--the possibility of representation in the federal parliament in direct proportion to its political influence in Montenegro.....

The gentlemen from the Montenegrin regime used the law in order to introduce the so-called "imperative mandate." This contradicts not only the Yugoslav constitution but also that of Montenegro, both of which stipulate that a deputy must decide and vote according to his own judgement and that he cannot be recalled for doing so.

The Montenegrin regime instead intended to turn the Upper House of the Federal Parliament into a house made up of deputies from Montenegro with clear political and legal constraints, in spite of the fact that the federal deputies in the Upper House of the Federal Parliament [are supposed to] represent the entire republic and all existing interests there.

That means that they should represent not only the interests of the Democratic Party of Socialists, but those of all the existing [groups] within the Parliament of Montenegro. The "imperative mandate" obviously constitutes a drastic case of reinterpreting and limiting the sovereign will of the citizens of Montenegro.

Zeljko Sturanovic: According to the Democratic Party of Socialists, the constitutional changes made a few [weeks] ago in Belgrade constitute a legal and political outrage against the constitutional order of our common state. Those changes infringe in a most direct and drastic way upon the statehood of Montenegro--and, to a large extent, of Serbia as well--by annulling the principle of equality between the two republics as an essential feature of the federal state.

The only motive for these constitutional changes that were made overnight--without being publicly discussed and without the knowledge or active participation of official Montenegrin representatives--is to create the legal, normative, and institutional conditions for prolonging Mr. Milosevic's presidential mandate, as well as to help him strengthen his grip on power.

Official Montenegro has already refused to accept these constitutional changes, and we do not consider them legally binding. This is based on several important elements. First, the constitutional changes are illegal and illegitimate, since they were adopted by an illegitimate body--the Upper House of the Federal Parliament. It is well known among our public that the Upper House, which adopted the constitutional changes, is made up of deputies from Montenegro whose mandate ran out in 1998 but who stayed on there because they meet the criterion of political obedience to one center of power.

No one knows whom these six deputies in the Upper House represent. One thing is certain though: they do not represent the state of Montenegro and its citizens.

Furthermore, there has to be a consensus and an agreement among the most important political elements in the country over the issue of adopting a constitution or constitutional changes. In this case, not only that the public was not informed about the substance of the changes, not only that some of the most important political parties knew nothing about it, but--and that is the most tragic thing of all--an entire federal unit, in this case Montenegro, was completely excluded from these activities.

This is an unprecedented case in the history of constitutional law, in that the parliament of a state--in this case of Montenegro--was informed about the changes to the federal constitution only when one deputy read aloud a Tanjug news item during the parliamentary session.

Vuksan Simonovic: Mr. Sturanovic keeps avoiding discussing how the crisis in the relations between Montenegro and Serbia, that is in the Yugoslav federation, first started. He wants to mention neither the law on the selection of federal deputies for the Upper House of the Federal Parliament, nor the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court that practically ordered the Parliament of Montenegro to adopt a new law.

Mr. Sturanovic, it is absolutely clear that our Socialist People's Party does not represent all of Montenegro. And, by the same token, it is clear as well that your not Montenegro and has no business trying to claim to be so, as you are doing right now.

According to the 1998 election results, the Socialist People's Party won some 125,000 votes from adult citizens of Montenegro, or some 37 percent of the electorate. The Socialist People's Party [demands a corresponding share of the representation] in the Upper House.

Mr. Sturanovic, your Democratic Party of Socialists, and therefore the parliamentary majority of Montenegro, did not want to implement the decision of the federal Constitutional Court, although, as a lawyer, you must be aware that decisions of the Constitutional Court are binding on everybody.

This is why the recent constitutional changes were in essence "forced" by the regime in Montenegro. If the Montenegrin government had...allowed all the parliamentary parties from Montenegro to be represented in the Upper House, these constitutional changes would not have been necessary.

But you did not want to accept proportional representation in the Upper House. You ignored the will of some 125,000 adult citizens of Montenegro by a legal "outrage."

Therefore, these constitutional amendments do not infringe upon either the basic principles of the Yugoslav federation, or the principle of equality between Montenegro and Serbia and their respective citizens.... The only thing that has been changed is the way the deputies of the Upper House and the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are to be elected. In the future, they will be elected directly by the citizens. Is there anything more democratic?

Zeljko Sturanovic: Mr. Simonovic, let me first tell you that neither the Democratic Party of Socialists nor I avoid any topic, and therefore we do not avoid the one you have just imposed: the election of the deputies for the Upper House of the Federal Parliament. You must be aware that in terms of existing legislation, the law adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro is absolutely correct because the Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro, as well as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, provide for the election of the deputies to the Upper House according to the law of each federal unit.

Vuksan Simonovic: And do you, as a man of the law, comply with the decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court?

Zeljko Sturanovic: I will come to that point, too. Let me finish first. The constitution does not stipulate whether the law on selection of deputies for the Upper House must be bsed on a plurality system or on proportional representation. The constitution has left it to the federal units to choose their [own respective] electoral systems.

Therefore, the law on the selection of deputies for the Upper House was adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro and, according to that law, a 20-member delegation was selected for the Upper House. For two years now, that delegation has been denied access to the Federal Parliament and cannot participate in its activities.

Vuksan Simonovic: And what about the Federal Constitutional Court's decision?

Zeljko Sturanovic: The fact is that the Federal Constitutional Court's decision from--as far as I can remember, 20 December 1998--said that the Montenegrin law that ended the mandate of the aforementioned six deputies of the Upper House contradicted the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, it is the Constitutional Court of the federal unit in question and not that of the federation that has jurisdiction over that issue.

Vuksan Simonovic: You refuse to take the law seriously, and there is nothing I can do about that. You do not want to respect [a ruling by] the Federal Constitutional Court. Your party colleagues used to call it a political court. We from the SNP (Socialist People's Party) have never dared to call the Constitutional Court of Montenegro political; on the contrary, we have always respected its decisions and we always will, just like we will always carry out the decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court. Mr. Sturanovic, that is because constitutional courts are guardians of constitutions.