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Montenegro: Djukanovic--Milosevic's Rival--Wins Presidency

  • Patrick Moore

Prague, 20 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is the new president of Montenegro. But the only other thing that is certain about his election is that Podgorica's relations with Belgrade will not be quite what they were before.

Milo Djukanovic beat outgoing President Momir Bulatovic in a runoff vote on October 19 by just over 6,000 votes. The turnout was roughly 72 percent. Bulatovic had had a slight edge over Djukanovic in the first round, which took place on October 5.

During the campaign, Bulatovic charged that his rivals denied him fair television coverage. Djukanovic, for his part, claimed that Bulatovic's backers manipulated the voting lists and brought in agents from Belgrade to disrupt the elections.

The campaign was acrimonious because the stakes were high. The main issue was the future of Montenegro's relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Montenegro and Serbia are the two constituent republics. Bulatovic is a loyal ally of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who until recently was president of Serbia and who now wants to increase the Yugoslav president's powers. To succeed, Milosevic needs to control Montenegro, because Montenegro and Serbia have an equal number of votes in the upper house of the Yugoslav parliament, which must approve any constitutional changes to increase Milosevic's powers.

Djukanovic, for his part, is committed to autonomy for Montenegro and called the election a referendum on that issue. Djukanovic charged that Milosevic's policies have led to Yugoslavia's isolation, which has hit Montenegro especially hard, since that republic is dependent on tourism and shipping.

The rivalry between Djukanovic and Bulatovic has dominated Montenegrin politics all year and has led to a de facto split in the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS). The majority of the DPS's governing body backed Djukanovic, but Bulatovic and his supporters still claim to be the "real" DPS. It nonetheless seems to be only a question of time before one or the other factions founds a new party under a new name.

Less certain, however, is what Djukanovic's election will mean for Podgorica's relations with Belgrade. One interpretation is that Djukanovic will lock horns with Milosevic in a major political fight. The outcome of this struggle could be either that Montenegro secedes from Yugoslavia and declares independence rather than accept a strong federal presidency; or that Milosevic is defeated over the constitutional issue and somehow finds a way to become president of Serbia again in order to maintain power.

Yet another view is that Milosevic will not accept defeat over constitutional change but might precipitate a new ethnic conflict as a means to consolidate his power should Djukanovic win the upper hand in parliament. According to this theory, Milosevic might use the current violence in Kosovo to provoke a Slav-Albanian conflict that could spill over into Macedonia as well. Critics of this theory point out, however, that Serbian forces are already in fairly firm control of Kosovo, and that Milosevic's credentials as a Serbian nationalist are tarnished after he failed to aid the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia in 1995.

Another interpretation, however, is that Djukanovic's election will not lead to any major changes, because he and Milosevic are both allegedly crafty politicians who will strike a deal rather than engage in a political duel.

Those who hold this view point out that Djukanovic has not called for full independence, and that he worked together with Bulatovic and Milosevic for years. During this time, Djukanovic reportedly built up a fortune through sanctions-busting.