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Serbia/Montenegro: Voters Prepare For Sunday's Polls

Belgrade, 31 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Voters in rump Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, are to go to the polls this Sunday for the first general elections since the end of the Bosnian war.

By all accounts, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's left-wing coalition is likely to win, leaving little to change in the country where some 700,000 people are jobless and the average monthly wage of those who do work is about $150.

Voters will be casting ballots in municipal elections and for a Parliament for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, while Montenegrins will in addition vote for a separate Parliament for their republic. An estimated 7.6 million voters overall are expected to take part in the one-day polling.

Voters are to elect deputies for the 138-seat Chamber of Citizens (Lower House) of the Yugoslav Parliament from among more than 800 candidates. Serbia has 108 seats and Montenegro has 30.

Deputies for the Federal Parliament's Upper House, the 40-seat Chamber of Republics, will be selected in coming months by the Parliaments of Serbia and Montenegro each providing 20 deputies.

Despite the large number of candidates, observers say the elections will come down to two main groups, both of which are alliances of parties. One is the pro-government "left" alliance of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the communists of the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) headed by Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic and the New Democracy (ND)party. The alliance openly advocates the return of communist rule in Yugoslavia.

Individually weak, and facing a tightly state-controlled media and economy, the opposition also formed a coalition. The Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, is considered the most important partner in this coalition, known as Together (Zajedno). The other members are the Democratic Party (DSS), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Civil Alliance (GSS).

The Together coalition, which advocates swift economic reforms, cooperation with the West and democratization of Serbia, performs well in the polls. But its chances for success were cut by the recent departure of its chosen leader, former Central Bank Governor Dragan Avramovic. The widely popular Avramovic, 76, officially dropped out of the race for health reasons.

The last Federal elections in Yugoslavia were held in December, 1992 and brought an overwhelming victory to the Serbian and Montenegrin Socialists, led by Milosevic and his ally President Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro.

In Montenegro, the sister party of Milosevic's Socialists is running against an opposition campaigning for greater independence from Serbia.

But unlike Belgrade, the opposition in Montenegro is stronger overall than the opposition in Serbia and maybe this is where the crucial contest lies. If the opposition wins in Montenegro, it's deputies could exert influential change in the Federal Parliament.

Meanwhile, back in Serbia, the opposition has protested about the absence of any meaningful international monitoring effort for Sunday's vote. The opposition coalition has said that Western governments supports Milosevic, hoping a victory by him could simplify their task of implementing peace agreements he signed for former Yugoslavia. Milosevic exerts control over the Serb faction in Bosnia.

Milosevic, who has swayed from communism to nationalism and back, has won every single Serbian ballot since 1990.

Aside from the suggested international ramifications of the vote, the polls are seen as a trial run for elections in the Serbian Republic scheduled for next year.