ZAGREB, Croatia — Bracing for the worst, parliament Wednesday paved the way for transferring some essential powers from ailing President Franjo Tudjman. Tudjman's doctors acknowledged that the leader's condition was grave, and a key aide said he was fighting for his life.
A constitutional clause on temporary incapacity of the president was supported by 85 deputies, giving the motion the necessary two-thirds majority in the 127-seat legislature.
The amendment, drafted by Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Union party, allows for some presidential powers to be transferred to the speaker of parliament should the Cabinet rule that Tudjman is temporarily unfit to perform his duties.
Drazen Budisa, leader of the opposition Social Liberals, said Tudjman should be declared permanently incapable of performing his duties.
Vladimir Seks, a senior Tudjman aide, acknowledged that the president was "fighting for his life." But he added: "We will never allow him to be stripped of his presidential honors during his lifetime."
Tudjman's party says such a motion would be disgraceful treatment of the man who led Croatia to independence from the former Yugoslav federation in 1991.
Tudjman was treated in 1996 in a Washington, D.C., clinic for what U.S. sources said was cancer--a claim he denied. He has been hospitalized since Nov. 1 in a Zagreb clinic, where he has suffered a number of complications after emergency intestinal surgery.
The head of his medical team, Dr. Branimir Jaksic, said the president's state is "grave, and intensive treatment is continuing." He did not elaborate.
The constitutional amendment gives the government up to 30 days to start the procedure to proclaim the president temporarily unable to perform his duties, leading to concern among the opposition that Tudjman's party may use the month to play for time to resolve internal struggles and prepare a strategy for a future without the man who has been the undisputed leader since independence.
Tudjman has wielded great power since 1991, ruling almost single-handedly. His failure to govern during the last three weeks has largely paralyzed Croatia's political system.
Seks hinted that the Cabinet could "very soon" seek the ruling on Tudjman's temporary incapacity from the Constitutional Court, the country's top judicial body.
If Tudjman is proclaimed unfit, or if he dies, parliament Speaker Vlatko Pavletic would assume some of his powers.
He would then be able to sign off on several bills and set the date for new parliamentary elections by the Dec. 26 deadline. The balloting should occur by Jan. 27.
New elections must be carried out within 60 days of a president's death.