SUN, 27 JAN 2002 06:21:48 GMT
NGOs in the Serbian Legislature
Keeping an Eye on Legislators
Serbian Legislature officials explained their decision to let the Otpor
movement and NGOs attend Legislature sessions as stemming from a desire
to show that there is nothing mysterious about what goes on there. Otpor
representatives said this will make it possible for them to help
deputies "sober up and become aware of their enormous responsibility."
AIM Belgrade, January 17, 2002
After the New Year and Christmas holidays, which in Serbia last until
mid-January, politics is back in focus, although there was no delays in
political events even during the holiday period. It was marked by
strikes by employees of four former top state-run banks shut down by the
government, questions hurled at Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic regarding
his New Year vacation in the United Arab Emirates and its cost, and
public calls for testing legislators for drugs so that the public could
know what part of their consciousness is active when they are sitting in
Among this rather long list of controversial requests, a decision to
allow NGOs and the Otpor movement to attend Legislature sessions,
thereby expanding public monitoring of this important institution, drew
considerable attention. The move was generally understood as an attempt
to instill greater discipline in the Legislature, because both
legislative bodies (the Serbian Legislature and the Yugoslav Parliament)
have had, some say, efficiency problems.
Sessions have been interrupted or postponed because deputies would leave
immediately after getting their allowances and there were even cases of
deputies abusing their voting cards. The most drastic example occurred
during the passage of the labor bill, when Novi Sad Mayor Borislav
Novakovic's vote was accepted although he was in Thessaloniki at the
time. Another incident that took place shortly afterwards resulted in
the resignation of Dragan Marsicanin, the Legislature speaker.
Although the ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the Legislature,
the lack of quorum has assumed chronic proportions, and penalties
imposed on deputies have failed to cure the disease. It is said that
deputies shy away from the job for two reasons. The first is that
opposition deputies often exhibit destructive conduct, which is why
deputies from the other side prefer to be elsewhere.
The other reason are their numerous obligations. Most deputies have
other duties and, unlike Borislav Novakovic, cannot be in two places at
the same time. Either because they do not have enough people or because
they are selfish and want to hold several positions, certain DOS
officials hold more than one office, paying little attention to the fact
that this occasionally involves a conflict of interest.
Some deputies exercise legislative and executive power simultaneously,
which is reminiscent of the former regime. Because of that the public
believes that many current officials were against Slobodan Milosevic,
but not against his institutions. This is because little was done to
change these institutions, although it requires no money. Many even say
that although the system hasn't changed a bit, certain officials have:
many have gained considerable weight.
It seems that Otpor members were the first to notice this. With their
ominous slogan "We are watching you," they managed to make it into the
Legislature, where the visitors area will give them a good view of the
attitude of people's representatives. According to the official
explanation, Otpor was granted this privilege because of its
contribution to toppling the former regime.
The new Serbian Legislature speaker, Natasa Micic, together with Otpor
leaders announced other measures intended to "demistify what takes place
in the Legislature and prevent misinformation," although the sessions
are broadcast live on state TV. The measures in question involve
increasing the number of professional deputies. Of the 176 DOS deputies,
58 are paid to do that, and the goal is to bring this number to about
90. This will apparently increase expenses, but it is believed that
costs will actually go down, because as paid deputies they will be
obliged to attend sessions and the quorum problem will be eliminated.
And while the legislature speaker explains the opening of the
Legislature's doors to Otpor and a number of NGOs in terms of better PR,
Otpor representative Nenad Konstantinovic openly expresses the hope that
their presence will make the deputies "sober up and become aware of
their responsibilities." Otpor is demanding the publication of clear
information regarding citizens' right to express their views on Serbia's
institutions, as well as e-mail addresses of all deputies and data on
their property. They are also urging tough measures against
This clearly shows there is dissatisfaction with the Serbian
Legislature's performance so far, and its efficiency in changing the
system. Instead of this, the Legislature in the past several months was
an arena of political struggle between the Democratic Party of Serbia, a
DOS member, and other DOS members. It seems that public criticism is
bearing fruit and that a reconciliation between the embattled factions,
albeit not too enthusiastic, is in sight.
Premier Djindjic has announced that he is willing to give four
portfolios in his cabinet to the Democratic Party of Serbia. It remains
to be seen whether the other side is willing to accept the offer,
because it has asked for more -- that each DOS member be represented
proportionally to its political power.
The smaller DOS parties, especially their leaders, will certainly not
like this, because that would mean being sidelined. The premier is also
unwilling to make greater concessions to the Democratic Party of Serbia.
He knows the support of smaller parties is essential for him, and if he
is to go on making concessions that will involve his backers, despite
their blackmail and the fact that they lack popular support.