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December 1, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 269
Interview: Ph.D. Vesna Rakic-Vodinelic

The Judges Third Round

by Dejan Anastasijevic

VREME: Within just a few days, the coalition Zajedno remained without more than a half of its representatives for the City Assembly of Belgrade. How did it happen?


Rakic-Vodinelic: First the city election committee annulled the elections at several electoral units, based on the objections of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). That way ten candidates of the coalition Zajedno had to go to the third round. Then the First Municipal Court in Belgrade, under whose jurisdiction is the City Election Committee's headquarters, annulled the elections at over 230 electoral units, eliminating that way 33 candidates of the coalition Zajedno. So our coalition has lost forty- three out of cca. seventy representatives for the City Assembly, some on the basis of the objections of SPS, some on the basis of the appeals to the court. Namely, when the City Election Committee rejects some of the objections of a party (and it has rejected some of the objections of the SPS), the party in question has the right to appeal to the court.


What is the matter of dispute here?


The first problem is the deficiency of the Bill of the Territorial Organization and Local Self-management. It says only that the appeal is to be submitted to the municipal court in charge, but says nothing on the procedure and the structure of the court's council. The First Municipal Court has estimated that the issue in question should be treated as a matter of administrative procedure and that on the basis of complaints the procedure of evaluating the legal status of the act of the City Election Committee was to be conducted. Which means that the court had to take as its starting point the state of things as recorded in the electoral minutes. However, in ninety-nine percent of the electoral minutes SPS members from the election boards did not annotate any complaints about the progress of the elections on the day of the elections. Naturally, it is possible that they found some irregularities later on, but in that case they have to submit proof. So far, I have not seen a single valid reason for the annulment of the elections.


Haven't the reasons been stated in the explanation of the verdicts?


The problem is that the First Municipal Court has refused to forward us the verdicts, although the law says it must do so. I went to see the president of that court, Mr. Jankovic, the day before yesterday and asked to see the verdicts. He received me very politely, although in the court hall, and said that he would see that I get them. I referred to the law and said that it is not up to his good will to do so, but an obligation of the court. Namely, the Law on Administrative Procedure clearly states that the third interested party has the status of a party if the verdict can be brought to its disadvantage. As you know, all the annulling decisions were brought to the disadvantage of the coalition Zajedno. Nevertheless, Jankovic said that he could not promise anything. This means that the court has practically refused to recognize our status as a party, and has not forwarded us, up to this day, neither its verdicts, nor the appeals on the basis of which the verdicts were brought.


It seems that the courts, and not only the ones from Belgrade, readily met the needs of the ruling party?


I believe that such a general estimation does not stand. It all depends which courts and judges we are speaking about. For example, in Nis the main job for the SPS was not done by the judges but by the election committee who simply changed the results. Even that is completely illegal, but the SPS has addressed the court later on, requesting also the annulment of those few remaining mandates. Since they had not been able to find a judge who would do such a thing, they found one in Bela Palanka. I also have information that many judges in Kragujevac refused to participate in an ad hoc creation of the court council. So, although there are many judges who do not wish to be obedient, it is always possible to find in the cities of Serbia one or two of those willing to deliver verdicts as ordered. This fact is completely disastrous for me as a lawyer. The indications of the influence of executive power on judicial power are more than upsetting, and the Association of the Lawyers of Serbia has not found it necessary to react.


What legal steps has the coalition Zajedno taken, considering the fact that the verdict you have shown us states that the appeal is not permitted?


Yes, appeals are a regular legal remedy, and usually they are not permitted in the administrative procedure. However, we have requested a premature re- inspection of the sentence in effect - it is an emergency legal remedy, which, unfortunately, does not delay the sentence. We have sent such a request to the Supreme Court of Serbia, also requesting the temporary measure of banning the third round of elections, because it causes irreparable damage to the coalition Zajedno and disturbs the public.


You have spoken to the representatives of the foreign embassies in Belgrade?


Our Legal Council has informed all lawyers of the foreign embassies about the situation. They listened to us, but, of course, did not express any personal stands on the issue.


In the light of current experience, do you personally expect that the Supreme Court will rule in your favor?


It is a difficult question to answer. Personally, in spite of all, I believe in the profession. I teach law to the students, I love my job and believe in law. However, I must admit that, after the recent events in the course of the elections, I do not believe that the Supreme Court will rule to our advantage. I hope I am wrong.

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