Montenegro: Djukanovic Agrees Court Compromise

Elections to go ahead after president caves in to opposition demands over composition of key judicial institution.

Montenegro: Djukanovic Agrees Court Compromise

Elections to go ahead after president caves in to opposition demands over composition of key judicial institution.

Montenegro's parliament removed the last remaining obstacle preventing parliamentary elections on October 20 by approving a new panel of judges for the republic's constitutional court.

The move was needed for the poll to take place after disputes flared between government and opposition over constitutional court appointments.

After the disagreement had rumbled on throughout the summer, the authorities and the opposition hatched a deal in early September through the mediation of the OSCE and the US ambassador William Montgomery.

In a significant triumph for the opposition, President Milo Djukanovic agreed to appoint two judges put forward by the opposition to the court. The result is that the government no longer controls this key institution.

The president's pro-independence coalition lost its majority in parliament after its former Liberal Alliance, LS, partners withdrew support in protest against Djukanovic's signature to the Belgrade Agreement on March 14.

This arrangement, reached under heavy pressure from the European Union, guaranteed the preservation of the union of Serbia and Montenegro for at least three years. Only then may a referendum on independence be held.

After the pro-independence LS formed an unlikely alliance with the opposition coalition Together for Yugoslavia in mid-July, Djukanovic had no option but to call early parliamentary elections.

However, the new anti-government parliamentary majority refused in mid-August to approve the panel of constitutional court judges proposed by Djukanovic. "We cannot vote… without prior consultation," Dragan Soc, leader of one of the pro-Yugoslav parties said.

The judges' term expired on August 28. And until last Wednesday, Montenegro remained practically without a constitutional court, sparking fears of judicial and political chaos.

A parliamentary ballot scheduled for the fifth of the month had to be postponed until October 20, since the court guarantees the legitimacy of the election process and issues rulings on disputes occasioned by complaints from poll participants. At one stage, the opposition threatened to boycott the poll altogether, heightening the air of political crisis.

At the last moment, on September 25, President Djukanovic proposed four candidates to parliament, just as the deadline for registering them was about to expire. They were judges Radoje Korac, Veselin Rackovic, Zoran Smolovic and Radovan Krivokapic.

The opposition backed this list, as Djukanovic had made two significant concessions. Firstly, he approved of two candidates, Rackovic and Smolovic, put forward by the opposition Socialist People's Party, SNP - the main player in the Together for Yugoslavia coalition. And secondly, he agreed to meet pro-Yugoslav parties' demands for four rather than the five judges required by the constitution, which the latter wanted to ensure that they were equally represented.

The concessions prompted lawyers to warn that an even number of government- and opposition-appointed judges may lead to a state of deadlock in the court. "It may happen that two judges vote for one solution while the other two are against it. That could jeopardise constitutional order and lead to stalemate," said Blagota Mitric, the court's former president.

The newly appointed court president, Radoje Korac, admitted that stalemate might occur owing to the even number of judges, but insisted the new appointees would resist political pressure.

"I will work according to my conscience, knowledge and abilities. I am not a member of any party and can guarantee pressure will not influence me. I believe other members of the constitutional court will be guided by the same principles," Korac said.

The forthcoming elections may well test this resolve. If the judges are to make decisions according to political dictates, not according to laws, on complaints by political parties after the election, Montenegro could find itself in dangerous waters.

Fortunately, though, the elections will take place under close international scrutiny. Without the latter's mediation, numerous previous disputes between the authorities and the opposition would not have been solved.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is editor-in-chief of Monitor magazine from Podgorica

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