Serbia: Parliament Faces Ballot Fraud Charges

Assembly’s credibility plunges following vote-rigging allegations.

Serbia: Parliament Faces Ballot Fraud Charges

Assembly’s credibility plunges following vote-rigging allegations.

Serbia’s scandal-racked government is facing further allegations of fraud, which will strengthen opposition demands for early parliamentary elections.

On September 29, the a parliamentary administrative body - largely made up of members of the ruling DOS coalition - dismissed potentially damaging charges detailed in a lawsuit brought by the influential Otpor (Resistance) movement against parliamentary speaker and acting Serbian president Natasa Micic.

Otpor accuses Micic - a DOS member - of being responsible for an allegedly fraudulent vote at a July 22 parliamentary session where deputies voted to dismiss Mladjan Dinkic, vice president of the opposition reformist party G17 Plus, from his post as governor of the country’s national bank.

The vote was passed by a majority of one, and G17 Plus alleged that the voting card of an absent deputy was used. Neda Arneric of the ruling coalition’s Democratic Party, DS, was apparently on holiday in Turkey when her ballot was registered.

Were this the case then the vote was illegal, as it went ahead one deputy short of the 126 required for a quorum.

DS spokesperson Aleksandar Radosavljevic recently told TV B92 that he had personally seen Arneric in parliament on that day, and claimed that he could prove this, although this evidence has yet to be made public.

To date, Arneric has not confirmed or denied that she was present at the July 22 session, withdrawing from public view when the scandal broke.

A close friend of the deputy said on September 27 that Arneric was currently in Greece, and was considering leaving politics. At the time IWPR went to press, she had not responded to any of our attempts to contact her for a comment.

Even if Arneric was present and voted on July 22, suspicions about the ballot remain.

Dragan Rafailovic, a deputy with the Christian Democrat party, DHS, another DOS coalition member, told the media earlier this month that he had not attended the contentious session, and alleged that a mystery person had used his voting card without his knowledge.

Speaking to IWPR this week, Rafailovic said that the situation was clear. “Everyone was talking about whether Neda [Arneric] was present, and that was the main topic discussed. However, I do stick to my earlier statement that I had not attended that parliamentary session either."

Rafailovic's insistence that he did not attend the vote has further fuelled concerns over whether there was a quorum of deputies.

Miroslav Hristodulo, an Initiative for Normal Serbia deputy, told IWPR last week that "the abuse of deputies' cards was quite common in parliament".

The scandal also cast doubts on the legality and validity of many earlier assembly decisions passed by the bare legal minimum of deputies.

DOS has a narrow majority in parliament and has to rely on some opposition parities led by former Milosevic's associates in order to pass legislation. Some independent analysts have suggested that the latter have been bribed or even blackmailed into supporting the government – a claim the ruling coalition vigorously denies.

Meanwhile, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, has put forward a motion to replace Micic over the most recent alleged vote fraud. The move is being backed by other parties, including the strongest opposition Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, led by Vojislav Kostunica.

The voting debacle is not the only problem facing DOS and the assembly at the start of the autumn session – parliament is being accused of ignoring the Serbian constitutional court’s May 27 ruling that seven former ruling coalition deputies, who defected to other parties, have their seats reinstated. Judges stipulated that the seats belonged to the deputies themselves - not their parties.

When the court’s president Slobodan Vucetic demanded that the former DOS deputies be reinstated, ruling coalition member Bosko Ristic – who heads the parliamentary administrative committee - accused Vucetic of "exerting pressure on parliament".

According to IWPR sources close to DOS, its deputies might try to diffuse the growing parliamentary crisis by calling for a vote on whether the July 22 ballot was legal and asking for more time to respond to the constitutional court’s ruling.

While this would give parliament and the ruling coalition - which has been hit by a series of financial scandals over the past year - some breathing space, their main problem, re-establishing their battered credibility, will remain.

Many observers now feel that time running out for the ruling coalition, and that the early elections demanded by the opposition – which would surely see DOS losing power – are drawing ever closer.

Milan Podunavac, professor at the Belgrade University School of Political Sciences, denounced the ruling coalition, saying, "Corrosion of democratic legitimacy and authority of the Serbian parliament has been one of the worst consequences in the aftermath of the Milosevic's fall from power."

And political analyst Slobodan Divjak added, "It is hard to deny that Serbia is exposed to the tyranny of an illegitimate majority. The only way out of this twilight zone may be an early parliamentary ballot.”

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor in Belgrade.

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