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Montenegro: Vote Results May Limit Drive To Independence

  • Alexandra Poolos

Pro-independence parties have won a very slim majority in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Montenegro, beating a bloc opposed to independence from Yugoslavia by just 5,000 votes out of more than 350,000 votes cast. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos reports that the closeness of the results may well dampen President Milo Djukanovic's plans to bring Montenegro quickly out of the Yugoslav federation.

Prague, 23 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Montenegro's pro-independence movement won a slim majority in parliamentary elections yesterday (Sunday), but fell short of the broader mandate for secession that it had sought.

Although official returns of the balloting gave a majority of seats to supporters of independence, the margin of victory was not what President Milo Djukanovic had hoped for. His campaign emphasized plans to break away from Yugoslavia and create a new state.

Montenegro's electoral commission says that with almost all of the votes counted, Djukanovic's Victory for Montenegro alliance won just over 42 percent of the vote.

That put the alliance just narrowly ahead of the anti-independence Together for Yugoslavia bloc, which took about 41 percent of the ballots. The difference between the two groups was less than 5,000 votes. Close to 450,000 people were eligible to vote, and the commission said turnout reached over 80 percent.

The results mean that Djukanovic's group cannot form a government on its own and will most likely seek a governing coalition with the separatist-minded Liberal Party, which won about 9 percent of the vote. Supporters of independence are now expected to hold 44 seats in the 77-seat parliament, with 35 seats for Djukanovic's faction, six seats for the Liberals and three seats for small ethnic-Albanian parties that also support independence.

In front of a cheering crowd this morning, Djukanovic described the early unofficial results as a "huge step" toward an independent Montenegro.

But the narrow difference points to a much closer battle for independence. Djukanovic had said earlier that if he won he would call for a referendum on seceding from Yugoslavia later in the summer. To be valid, the results of such a referendum would require support of two-thirds of parliament. Yesterday's ballot leaves Djukanovic's coalition far short of that mark.

The pro-Yugoslav bloc said its strong showing -- which had not been predicted publicly by opinion pollsters or the Djukanovic camp -- meant the president did not have the support needed to press ahead with the final breakup of Yugoslavia.

Together for Yugoslavia leader Vuksan Simonovic said today that the results were a guarantee that Montenegro would remain within Yugoslavia.

Dr. Peter Palmer, an analyst based in Podgorica with the International Crisis Group, says the unexpectedly close results would prolong the uncertainty over the future of Yugoslavia.

"It's very difficult now for President Djukanovic to press ahead quickly with his plans for referendum, and ultimately independence. I think having gone so far, he can't abandon the aspiration to independence, but I think realistically now he's in a very difficult situation. His room to maneuver is very, very narrow."

Palmer agrees that Djukanovic will most likely enter into a coalition with the Liberal Party, which is radically pro-independence. In any event, he says, plans to hold a referendum this summer may have to be reconsidered.

"All bets are off the on the timetable [for the referendum] now. Up until the election, [the Djukanovic camp] had been speaking of a referendum in possibly June or July. It's notable that in Djukanovic's speech at 5 o'clock this morning, he stressed the need to continue building a democratic society, and didn't make a single reference to a referendum. I think at the moment it's distinctly possible that any referendum could be postponed well into the future."

Palmer says the most likely outcome of yesterday's election is the continuation of what he calls Montenegro's "uncertain limbo" between being fully independent or fully part of Yugoslavia.