AIM: start

THU, 26 APR 2001 23:42:19 GMT

Montenegro after the Elections

Between Referendum and FRY

Djukanovic has won, but his opponents have not lost. The elections have revealed what was already well known: there is an essential split in Montenegrin society although the option of independent Montenegro prevails. But the elections have not given the answer to the question of the near future either of the state of Montenegro or the state of FRY

AIM Podgorica 24.04.2001.

AIM Podgorica, April 24, 2001

A curious, surreal picture in early morning on April 23 when the first results of the early elections in Montenegro were already known. In the Together for Yugoslavia coalition a cheerful atmosphere, in the headquarters of the Victory of Montenegro a sombre silence.

The host of foreign reporters must have been greatly confused that morning: the winners looked as if they had been defeated, and the defeated raised their heads high. That, too, is Montenegro: the Victory of Montenegro coalition has won but has no reason to celebrate, and the Together for Yugoslavia coalition has lost but has much reason not to lament.

The composition of the future Montenegrin parliament will be as follows: Victory of Montenegro coalition (Democratic Party of Socialists /DPS/ and Social Democratic Party /SDP/) will have 36 deputies, Together for Yugoslavia coalition (Socialist People's Party /SNP/, People's Party /NS/ and Serb People's Party /SNS/) 33, Liberal League 6, Democratic Union of the Albanians and Democratic League one each.

A more detailed election statistical data are the following: Victory of Montenegro coalition won 42.05 per cent, Together For Yugoslavia 40.67 per cent of the votes. The Liberal League of Montenegro /LSCG/ ranks third with 7.65 per cent, while two parties which gather Montenegrin Albanians, Democratic Union of the Albanians and the Democratic League will be represented in the parliament although they have won only one per cent of the votes each thanks to the fact that the election law enables a part of the territory with a large majority Albanian population to have its deputies in Montenegrin assembly. The People's Socialist Party of Momir Bulatovic was on the verge of entering the parliament: it lacked only 700 votes to achieve that. Although voting will be repeated in three voting stations (out of the total of 1090) it is almost impossible to believe that they will somehow make it into the parliament. In other words, Momir Bulatovic is slowly leaving the political scene of Montenegro after the departure of Slobodan Milosevic, his political mentor.

In early morning everybody hurried to brag. "We are the winners, because there will be no referendum", estimated Predrag Bulatovic, president of the Socialist People's Party.

"We have made an important step forward, it is in fact an enormous step in raising Montenegrin awareness among the citizens of Montenegro", stressed Milo Djukanovic, Montenegrin president and leader of Victory of Montenegro coalition.

"We are a factor that will affect the relation of political forces and the future of Montenegro", said Miodrag Zivkovic, leader of the Liberal League of Montenegro.

Can it be claimed that they are all right in their evaluation of the results of April 22 elections from different angles? It seems that this is one of the specific characteristics of Montenegrin elections and the Montenegrin current situation. Because, apart from being a test of strength of political parties they included an additional choice: for the future of Montenegro in the joint state or in internationally recognised Montenegro.

The results have shown the essential split in Montenegrin society. When everything is summed up, the relation of forces in Montenegrin parliament will be as follows: Montenegro - 57 per cent, Yugoslavia - 43 per cent. Expressed in the number of votes, it is slightly different: 55:45. In comparison with the situation of three years ago, the Montenegrin block perhaps has reason to be satisfied: in January 1998, polls showed that almost sixty per cent of the citizens supported the idea of united FRY, and three years later - in April 2001 - more than 55 per cent declared themselves in favour of independent Montenegro.

But Together for Yugoslavia coalition also has reason to be satisfied. Despite their fears, they are not badly beaten. On the contrary: in comparison with their main opponent they have just two per cent less votes. Besides, they have beaten Djukanovic in a direct duel in many towns where he traditionally had strong support - in Niksic, Kotor and Berane.

On the other hand, Djukanovic and his coalition partners are faced with an even more difficult choice now. They expected a victory which would enable them to form the government on their own and to judge whether and when they would move toward the referendum. The victory turned out to be very narrow, so they will have to share power with the Liberal League. In some other times the ratio of votes Montenegro vs. FRY (55:45) might have given joy to Montenegrin authorities. Perhaps that is what induced Zarko Rakcevic, leader of the SDP to euphorically declare at dawn of April 23 that "for the first time since 1918 Podgorica Assembly, Montenegro has won".

However, it turned out that there is no large majority which would vote in favour of Montenegrin independence. And this will have a large influence on future steps. In short: after April elections Yugoslavia is "clinically dead" in Montenegro, but Montenegro has not "come to life" either. Analysts are also estimating the psychological effect of the past elections. Had there been a large coalition, the achieved result would have been interpreted as "a great victory of the Montenegrin option". As it is, all the weaknesses of political protagonists have been revealed. The first analyses show that another "purge" of the Democratic Party of Socialists has occurred. About 15 to 18 thousand members of DPS seem to have disobeyed the advice of the leaders of the party and chose to vote in favour, not of the coalition of SNP, NS and SNS, but of survival of the joint state.

That is what the situation in the field revealed. Both the authorities and the opposition had special teams for supervision of the voting: party activists had copies of the electoral register and copies of the lists of party members and supporters. By a simple insight into the number and identity of the citizens who had voted it was possible to make an estimate of successfulness even before the end of the voting. According to this estimate, about 20.00 h, the leadership of DPS had very good news: an advantage of between 12 and 14 per cent in its favour was expected, plus eight to nine per cent of the votes in favour of the Liberal League. Only after the actual counting of the votes it became clear that the job in the field - both before the campaign and during the process of voting - was not done well at all: the "sure votes" were not sure at all after all.

Now it also turned out that the projection of the propaganda campaign had not been fully elaborated. The leaders of the DPS were indecisive for a long time whether to persist to the very end with the story on state independence or to insist on the story of two chairs and the union of internationally recognised states. That is the reason why the promotional videos did not have a clear message, but left the voters the vague possibility to "think for themselves".

The question the leaders of DPS must answer to themselves and to others is: have these elections definitely "cleansed" the ranks of the voters of this party or will there be new possibilities for defection?

On the other hand, thanks to mediation of Kostunica's part of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOD), leaders of Together for Yugoslavia coalition have succeeded in overcoming their internal disagreements. The campaign was properly conducted with a single clear message: everybody would be better off if they did not declare themselves in favour of independent Montenegro. DOS's media pool in Belgrade directly helped with the posters, promotional videos and the campaign in the field. It is estimated in Podgorica that direct financial support (i.e. without the help of media through advertisements in Belgrade media) amounted to 600 thousand marks.

The experience of DOS in weakening and overthrowing Milosevic's regime has turned out to be a good mechanism although Djukanovic has maintained power: the assistance of the new authorities in Belgrade was different and much more efficient that at the time of Milosevic's rule when Montenegro was threatened and when it was easy for Djukanovic to find a winning strategy. Leading politicians in Belgrade mildly reported on all the consequences of a possible secession of Montenegro, directing the sharp edge primarily towards "Djukanovic's illogical and senseless policy which leads to instability in the region" (V. Kostunica). Along with the clear stand of the international community which is opposed to Montenegrin independence, was the propellant of the Together for Yugoslavia coalition in presenting the remaining in FRY as the only logical choice for the future.

For Together for Yugoslavia coalition it would be harder to rule because all the essential differences have come out to light. Now when they are a respectable opposition they are in a good position to obstruct future moves of Djukanovic and his new government with the Liberal League.

It is more difficult to forecast what the actual order of moves will be like. Djukanovic obviously is not in an enviable position now - the international community will pressure him to postpone the referendum, and the public opinion and Liberal League to hurry up with it. It is obvious that even with a much stronger campaign Montenegrin block cannot count on more than 58 to 60 per cent of the votes at the referendum, if there were no boycott. If Serb-Yugoslav parties decide to boycott the referendum, it would be very difficult to determine the real percentage of the supporters of independence, the number of the opponents of the idea and those who abstained from voting. The international community will not accept such an undefined situation.

Djukanovic can hardly back out now: the option he advocates has, after all, won the majority and that part of Montenegro expects resolution of the state status. The negotiations with the Liberal League will be tedious, because the Liberals have not defined clear conditions for their joining the future government. In the campaign as well as in previous years, DPS and LSCG had serious conflicts, and so did the leaders of these parties, Djukanovic and Perovic. Now they must stick together. Can they set out together and where? They will soon have to give an answer to that question to themselves and to others.

In fact, the new administration will very easily be able to hold all the strings in its hands. They have absolute majority in the parliament and in 14 Montenegrin municipalities, so they can execute power undisturbed. It is quite clear that a spectacular result in the referendum cannot be achieved. However, the Liberal League based its campaign on a single card: necessity of a quick referendum on the state status. Now they would have to explain to the public the idea that time is still not right for that and that they need several months for preparation of the ground and execution of power to achieve it together with Djukanovic whom they had criticised until recently for repeatedly postponing this issue.

Therefore, what will the platform of the new-old administration be: a quick referendum or maintaining the status quo? It seems that for the time being not even Djukanovic himself has the answer to that question.