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Montenegro: Elections Mean Trouble For Milosevic

Prague, 1 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Supporters of the For a Better Life coalition loyal to reformist President Milo Djukanovic appear to have won an outright majority of votes in yesterday's election for the Montenegrin parliament and for local assemblies.

Final tallies are expected tomorrow. Djukanovic supporters in the Montenegrin parliament will now be able to change the composition of the Montenegrin delegation to the upper house of the federal parliament in Belgrade and thereby affect the balance of power between supporters and opponents of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic there.

The purpose in calling an early legislative vote was to clarify the respective strengths of Djukanovic and his rival, former President Momir Bulatovic, who is a staunch supporter of Milosevic. Both sides agreed to the vote in the wake of the October 1997 presidential election, which Djukanovic won by a small margin and after which Bulatovic charged fraud.

The police, who are loyal mainly to Djukanovic, thwarted attempts by Bulatovic supporters in January to launch a campaign of violence. Such a campaign was intended to prompt federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic to declare a state of emergency, and prevent Djukanovic's inauguration.

On May 18, pro-Milosevic deputies in the federal parliament ousted the independent-minded Kontic and replaced him with Bulatovic two days later. Milosevic most likely staged his "coup" at that particular time to help Bulatovic and his Socialist People's Party (SNP) in the parliamentary vote. Neither Djukanovic nor his Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) recognized either Kontic's ouster or Bulatovic's election.

Djukanovic and Bulatovic have not, however, always been bitter enemies. The two began their political careers in the late 1980s as allies and as proteges of Milosevic, whose wars in Croatia and Bosnia they loyally supported.

Djukanovic and many of those around him are widely believed to have profited particularly well from smuggling fuel, cigarettes and alcohol in violation of the wartime sanctions.

With time, however, Djukanovic seems to have concluded that Milosevic's policies meant Yugoslavia's continued isolation. This, he argued, would be a disaster for Montenegro, whose long-term economic health depends on reviving the key shipping and tourism sectors.

In 1997, Djukanovic openly adopted a domestic program of democracy, reform and free markets, as well as an international policy of openness to all. He convinced the majority of the governing DPS of the soundness of his views, and the pro-Bulatovic faction was forced to leave and found the SNP.

Milosevic and Bulatovic frequently accused Djukanovic of seeking to take Montenegro out of the Yugoslav federation. Djukanovic repeatedly denied the charges, and told students in Podgorica shortly before the October elections that "Yugoslavia is not a Gypsy camp" to be pulled up and put down at will. He has stressed that his goal is to reform Yugoslavia so that it can survive and to end what he calls Milosevic's isolationist and dictatorial policies.

To be sure, some old Montenegrin traditions lurk beneath the surface of this debate on the issues of 1998. One is the dispute between the "Greens" -- who stress a distinct Montenegrin identity vis-a-vis Serbia, or who even advocate independence -- and the "Whites," who believe that the Montenegrins are a special group within the Serbian nation.

Another tradition in Montenegrin political culture involves rivalries among clans in regions, which certainly played a part in determining who sided with Djukanovic and who with Bulatovic.

But Djukanovic seems to have convinced the voters of the merits of his arguments. The Green-White dispute and clan issues alone are not sufficient to account for Montenegro's switch since the beginning of the decade from being a staunch supporter of Milosevic to being his main source of problems within the federal government.

The most immediate point of confrontation is likely to be over the upper house of the federal parliament. Serbia and Montenegro each have 20 seats in that body, even though Serbia's population is about ten times that of Montenegro. The new parliament in Podgorica may soon recall some Bulatovic supporters from among the 20 deputies and replace them with Djukanovic's people. The Montenegrin delegation would then be in a position to combine forces with Milosevic's other enemies in Belgrade and perhaps help force him from office.

But not if Bulatovic and Milosevic act first. Having failed to weaken Djukanovic in the parliamentary elections, their next move is likely to be to force a bill through both houses of the federal parliament to end the reformers' control over the Montenegrin police. The police in Yugoslavia are currently subordinate to the governments of Serbia or of Montenegro, respectively. Milosevic and Bulatovic are likely to try to push through legislation that would make both the Serbian and Montenegrin police part of a Yugoslav force subordinate to -- and controlled by -- Milosevic's supporters.

Milosevic is likely to try to win his political battle with Djukanovic quickly so as to concentrate his energies on the armed conflict in Kosovo. Both problems, it should be noted, are of his own making.