Serbian constitutional referendum, 2006
|Serbian constitutional referendum|
|Source: Republic Election Commission|
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
A referendum on a proposed draft of the new Serbian constitution was held on October 28 and 29 October 2006 and has resulted in the draft constitution being approved by the Serbian electorate. The constitution is Serbia's first as an independent state since the Kingdom of Serbia's 1903 constitution. Over 6.6 million people were entitled to vote in the national referendum.
The previous Constitution of Serbia was adopted in 1990, when Slobodan Milošević was President of Serbia. When he was ousted on October 5, 2000, one of pre-election promises of the new Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition government was to adopt a new constitution. That did not occur, however, as the coalition soon fell apart following disputes between the President of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Koštunica, and the Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Đinđić, which ended with Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia leaving the government of Serbia, dominated by Đinđić's Democratic Party.
The 1990 constitution contained several anachronisms, such as a provision for "social property", which was neither privately nor state owned. Also, it significantly reduced the level of autonomy of Serbia's two provinces (Vojvodina and Kosovo), which had been introduced in the Titoist constitution of 1974. It required a two-thirds majority in parliament and a qualified majority of 50% of the electorate to be changed. Koštunica advocated that the change of constitution be in accordance with the constitution of 1990, while many other parties suggested the provisions for constitutional change be ignored, advocating elections for a Constitutional parliament.
Following Đinđić's assassination in March 2003, general election was held in December 2003, which resulted in Koštunica becoming Prime Minister. At the same time, the Serbian Radical Party experienced a revival and became the single largest party in parliament, but it was excluded from government. The adoption of a new constitution was again delayed due to various compromises and a reluctance to tackle the problem.
The issue was revisited in 2005, when the teams selected by President Boris Tadić and the Government presented their drafts of the constitution to the public. In June 2006 Serbia became an independent state when Montenegro decided to put an end to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro at a referendum, making a new constitution urgent. The Kosovo status talks also necessitated the quick adoption of a new constitution which would affirm Serbian desires to keep the province under its sovereignty, in accordance with international law and UN Security Council Resolution #1244.
On October 1, 2006, followed by short negotiations among the largest parliamentary parties, the Parliament of Serbia unanimously adopted the draft of the new Constitution, with 242 MPs voting in favour. The other eight were not present. The draft was result of a compromise among the key political parties. Some considered the way in which it had been drawn up to be fairly untransparent, and the result of political horse-trading. In the preamble, a statement that "Kosovo is an autonomous province of Serbia with significant autonomy" was included. It was decided that the constitutional referendum was to be held on October 28 and October 29.
All major political parties supported the draft and began a public campaign for the referendum. The only political bloc that campaigned against the draft and advocated public boycott was a group of liberal and social-democrat parties (Čedomir Jovanović's Liberal Democratic Party, Nenad Čanak's League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, Žarko Korać's Social Democratic Union, Nataša Mićić's Civic Alliance of Serbia) and a number of NGOs. They objected to the lack of public discussion, argued that the claims to Kosovo in the preamble were a populist attempt to encourage the voters. Some were also dissatisfied with the level of autonomy given to Vojvodina. (On the 2007 election, those parties formed the coalition and entered the Parliament with about 5.3% support).
In the first article, Serbia is defined as a "state of the Serb people and all its citizens", and in the preamble Kosovo is defined as an "integral part" of Serbia with "fundamental autonomy". Also, it defines Serbia as an independent state for the first time since 1918. In addition, it makes Cyrillic the only alphabet for official use, while making provisions for minority languages to be used at the local level.
Differences between the new constitution and that adopted in 1990:
- Only private, corporate and public property is acknowledged; social assets cease to exist and shall be transferred to private.
- Foreign citizens will be able to become owners of properties
- Reappointment of judges
- The President is the Commander in Chief of the army
- For the first time constitution mentions "European values and standards"
- Full independence is granted to the National Bank of Serbia
- Decentralization process through granting ownership rights over municipal properties to local municipalities
- Vojvodina is granted economic autonomy
- Serbia has an official anthem, Bože pravde
- Rights of consumers, mothers, children, minorities are specially protected
- Every citizen has the right to get information of public importance
- Marriage is defined as the "union of a man and a woman"
While it was more or less universally accepted that the new constitution draft was a significant improvement over the 1990 constitution, the main objections of the public were directed at the untransparent way in which the draft was drawn up and approved by parliament. Even President Tadić acknowledged that "...I sense a certain uneasiness that we did not have a full public discussion about the constitution, due to the speed and pace at which it was seems to be adopted".
Several international law experts and independent analysts pointed out that the new article 16, which states that all international treaties must comply with the provisions of the constitution, sets up an inherent conflict, and can present an obstacle to the country's accession to European Union.
Another obstacle was how to ensure the constitutional limit of 50% of registered voters. Republic Election Commission (RIK) placed the total number of electors at 6,639,385—that excluded Kosovo Albanians, who have been boycotting all Serbian elections and censuses since 1990. Critics pointed that it's hypocritical to exclude Albanian voters from the balloting about the document which states that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Political analyst and president of Transparency Serbia Vladimir Goati said that "It is pointless to state that they are not on the voter list, because they are boycotting all Serbian elections. If you recognize someone as a citizen of your country, then you cannot take away his or her right to boycott."; however, the practice of excluding Kosovo Albanians has been adopted in several elections before. Also, opponents of the constitution pointed out that the decision of the Republic Election Commission that potential extra amount of ballots will be ignored was unlawful and outrageous.
According to preliminary counts published by the Republic Election Commission, 51.46% of the electorate (95.9% of those voting) supported the constitution, with 50% support needed for it to come into effect. The voter turnout amounted to 53.66%. The turnout of registered voters in Kosovo reached 90.1%, Albanians in Southern Serbia (Kosovo and Metohia) who constitute the majority of population in these areas ignored the referendum. The turnout in Vojvodina was also low (45.9%), as several regional parties and NGOs called for a boycott, stating that the degree of the province's autonomy was insufficient.
Opponents of the referendum point to the fact that the timing of the turnout was peculiar: after the first day of voting, the turnout was only 18.03%, and on Sunday morning it started rising slowly, reaching 46% at 5PM.. Then, in the last three hours of voting, the turnout rose to around 53%. The Speaker of the Vojvodina provincial assembly, Bojan Kostreš, accused the authorities of "forcing the new constitution". "The final voting hours were very strange, with a sudden, steep rise in turnout", he said. Several political analysts pointed out that similar scenarios have happened before; analyst Đorđe Vukadinović stated that "...the turnout of three to five percent per hour has been reached on several occasions in the past ten years.", while many commentators also pointed out that non-stop public messages on TV urging people to vote, the appearance of Serbian Patriarch Pavle voting on a TV broadcast, and an increase in awareness about the problems that would occur if the referendum failed, may also have played the role in increasing turnout.
The final results of the referendum were declared by the Republic Election Commission on 2 November 2006: voter turnout amounted to 3,645,517, or 54.91% of the electorate (totally 6,639,385 citizens), of which 25,866 votes were declared invalid and thus the final valid figure of 3,619,221 votes published. The new constitution was supported by 3,521,724 voters, or 53.04% of the electorate and 96.60% of those voting; 97,497 voters (1.47% of those registered and 2.67% of those voting) were against the new constitution; 25,866 votes were invalid.
The referendum and the text of the new Serbian Constitution have been sharply criticized by International Crisis Group.
Despite the drawbacks, the European Union and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe endorsed the proposed changes. Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman of EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, stated that "[The EU] positively assesses the fact that Serbia is changing the Constitution from the time of Slobodan Milošević".
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