Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yugoslavia Heads for Showdown on Milosevic's Tenure ; Constitutional Changes Approved Friday Entrench President, May Bring Civil War

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Yugoslavia Heads for Showdown on Milosevic's Tenure ; Constitutional Changes Approved Friday Entrench President, May Bring Civil War

Article excerpt

Once again, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has put his political opponents off guard, producing a new but risky strategy for remaining in office: direct democracy.

Yugoslavia's federal parliament enacted changes to Yugoslavia's Constitution on Friday that will allow Mr. Milosevic to serve two more four-year terms. They also tilt the balance of power in pro- Western Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, and could push the republic toward civil war.

Justice Minister Dragan Soc warned that the constitutional changes would lead to the further breakup of Yugoslavia. "There is no Yugoslavia with a humiliated Montenegro," he told parliament during a heated debate last week.

In an eight-hour emergency session that ended early Saturday morning, Montenegrin lawmakers passed a resolution rejecting the constitutional changes. Montenegro will no longer recognize any legal or political acts adopted by Yugoslav federal authorities, they said.

"Montenegro as a federal unit and Montenegrin citizens as equal citizens of Yugoslavia no longer exist as a constitutional category," Ratko Vukotic, head of the Supreme Court, was quoted as saying by Montenegro's news agency Montena-Fax.

More democratic

Although Milosevic opponents decried the hastily enacted constitutional changes as political manipulation, the new system is, ironically, more democratic. The Yugoslav president and Montenegro's representatives in federal parliament will now be elected by direct vote instead of by parliament. "The tendency in federal systems everywhere is toward more direct democracy. In modern times, if you are not directly elected you don't have the support of the people. Direct elections are a good thing," says Aleksa Djilas, a historian and Milosevic observer. Mr. Djilas adds, however, that any serious constitutional changes should be preceded by a long debate. "They voted to change the Constitution as if it were a minor procedural issue," he says.

Many observers had expected Milosevic, who is under indictment by the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, to become Yugoslavia's next prime minister, an office technically more powerful than the presidency. The Constitution prohibited Milosevic from serving another term as Yugoslav president. He had already served the maximum two terms as Serbian president.

Instead, Milosevic has decided to trust in the people. Although the strategy contains risks, a victory by popular ballot would give him democratic credibility.

Taken as a whole, Serbia's opposition is much more popular, but polls show Milosevic can beat any opposition candidate in a one-on- one contest. …

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