Milosevic ploy for new term

Rory Carroll

Thursday July 6, 2000

Slobodan Milosevic will today try to tighten his grip on the presidency of Yugoslavia by remoulding its constitution.

The country's ruling coalition will vote to change the law so the president can be elected directly. This would allow the indicted war criminal to sidestep a constitutional ban on him seeking re-election after his term ends next year.

The proposals would also adjust the election of the federal parliament to downgrade Montenegro, Serbia's pro-western partner in the Yugoslav federation. This could push Montenegro towards independence and trigger another Balkan conflagration.

Serbia's opposition parties were caught off-guard by news of Mr Milosevic's move.

Staying in power has been Mr Milosevic's best guarantee against prosecution since being indicted for atrocities in the Kosovo war last year.

It was reported last month that US president, Bill Clinton, who is anxious for a diplomatic triumph, was considering ways to allow Mr Milosevic to leave office without a war crimes trial at the Hague, possibly by offering a safe house in Greece, Russia or China.

The new constitutional move will strengthen Mr Milosevic's position. A reliable source told the Guardian that Mr Milosevic was anxious for a deal but only on the right terms. Securing another term was geared towards that end. The Hague tribunal has vowed to oppose any amnesty.

Deputies from Mr Milosevic's ruling coalition will propose to scrap the system whereby the assembly's two chambers appoint the president, which is how Mr Milosevic became president in 1997.

Once the method of electing the president is changed Mr Milosevic's supporters could argue that the one-term-only rule no longer applies.

In addition to circumventing the two-term ban, it would fulfill Mr Milosevic's dream of being the elected federal president, said Bratislav Grubacic, editor of the newsletter VIP.

Serbia's opposition is not expected to offer much resistance. It remains as divided as ever and no closer to ousting Mr Milosevic under its own steam. One opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, said the move constituted "a form of legal state terrorism and an attack on the constitution".

Original article