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Montenegro: Despite Victory Claims, Absolute Majority Could Elude Djukanovic's Bloc

Preliminary results from yesterday's parliamentary elections in Montenegro suggest that President Milo Djukanovic's Coalition for a European Montenegro has won an absolute majority of 39 seats in the 75-seat legislature. But despite Djukanovic's claims of victory, an absolute majority could still elude his pro-independence bloc. RFE/RL reports on the election and its impact on Montenegro's political future.

Prague, 21 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Preliminary results from Montenegro's parliamentary elections yesterday show that the pro-independence coalition of President Milo Djukanovic narrowly won an absolute majority in parliament.

Election officials and independent monitors have suggested that Djukanovic's Coalition for a European Montenegro will take 39 of the 75 seats in parliament. That is one seat more than the minimum needed for a stable, absolute majority in the legislature.

But with only 455,000 eligible voters in the tiny Yugoslav republic, and with the final vote count still pending, analysts warn that a tiny error in projections for the hard-line pro-Serbia Patriotic Coalition could mean that Djukanovic's allies will not have an absolute majority after all.

The final results are expected to be announced tomorrow. Marko Blagojevic, a spokesman for Yugoslavia's independent Center for Free and Democratic Elections, said the early preliminary results show the Patriotic Coalition is just a few dozen votes short of the 3 percent threshold needed to secure party representation.

In fact, the vote is so close that the difference between the projected result and the 3 percent threshold is below the margin of error in statistical analysis.

If the final official results put the Patriotic Coalition over the 3 percent threshold, the number of seats for Djukanovic's allies would be reduced to no more than 37 seats, one seat short of an absolute majority.

Even under the worst-case scenario for Djukanovic's supporters, the bloc still would be able to form a governing coalition by enlisting the support of two ethnic Albanian parties thought to have secured at least four parliamentary seats.

But analysts say that situation would give Djukanovic less room for political maneuvering than he would have with an absolute majority.

Indeed, Djukanovic's bloc is celebrating the victory of an absolute majority. And the Montenegrin president is already telling reporters that the majority will have a positive, stabilizing impact on the country. "This result is the effect of a serious political struggle in the last few years that we have fought to keep peace in Montenegro and to emancipate Montenegro from backwardness," Djukanovic said.

Djukanovic said he expects the next government in Podgorica to take important steps toward integration with the European Union. "This victory will enable Montenegro to continue dynamic political and economic reforms toward European integration," Djukanovic said.

He also said he expects progress toward implementing the so-called Belgrade agreement. In that EU-brokered deal struck with Serbian leaders last March, Djukanovic delayed for three years a referendum he had promised on Montenegro's independence from federal Yugoslavia.

In the meantime, Djukanovic said Podgorica will continue work on a constitutional charter needed to reconstitute Yugoslavia under a looser union renamed Serbia and Montenegro. "The state priorities will focus on overcoming our very difficult economic and social problems and the implementation of the Belgrade agreement," Djukanovic said.

Srdjan Darmanovic, a prominent political analyst who heads the Podgorica office of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, told RFE/RL today that he was surprised by projections of an absolute majority for the pro-independence bloc. "I expected victory for Djukanovic's coalition but not such a landslide. I thought [before the vote] that Djukanovic would also need the support of ethnic Albanian deputies in parliament in order to form a majority coalition," Darmanovic said.

Darmanovic said he agrees with those who say an absolute majority for the pro-independence bloc will help stabilize Podgorica's relations with Serbia, the larger partner of the two republics remaining in federal Yugoslavia. "I think that this result will have a stabilizing effect in regard to relations with Serbia, the introduction of a constitutional charter, and the creation of a union with Serbia structured by the Belgrade agreement," Darmanovic said.

What is clear from the preliminary results is that since the elections in May of last year, Djukanovic's coalition has gained support at the expense of radical parties on both sides of the independence issue.

The Coalition for a European Montenegro won nearly 48 percent of the overall ballot yesterday, up from about 42 percent last year.

By comparison, the opposition Together for Yugoslavia saw its support fall from 40.5 percent of the vote last year to less than 38 percent yesterday.

And the Liberal Alliance, which wants Podgorica to move more quickly on an independence referendum, saw its support fall from about 8 percent last year to 5.7 percent yesterday.

The Liberal Alliance had joined forces with Djukanovic after last year's vote to support a minority government. But it withdrew that support, forcing the need for yesterday's early parliamentary vote, after Djukanovic agreed to delay his promised referendum for three years under the terms of the Belgrade agreement.

Darmanovic said he was surprised by the drop in support for the Liberal Alliance. "Nobody expected such a poor showing for the Liberal Alliance. Actually, this poor showing is mostly what would allow Djukanovic's coalition to get a comfortable absolute majority in parliament," Darmanovic said.

Liberal Alliance leader Miodrag Zivkovic spoke bitterly about the election results today in an interview with RFE/RL. "Our motto during the campaign was 'Montenegro Can.' But voters have shown us that Montenegro cannot because Djukanovic's policies during the last 13 years [in public office] have demonstrated that Montenegro cannot. And Montenegro will continue in this fashion," Zivkovic said.

Dragan Koprivica, a spokesman for opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party and the pro-Yugoslav Together For Change coalition, has suggested that there were voting irregularities. "We did everything that we could during the electoral campaign. Of course, it should be emphasized that there was that part of the campaign that was not transparent. About 5 percent of our supporters didn't vote, which gave [the coalition of] Djukanovic a chance to win," Koprivica said.

Koprivica was referring to allegations raised before yesterday's ballot by the Socialist People's Party that Djukanovic's supporters had bought up the personal identification cards of voters who were likely to support the opposition. Montenegrins are obliged to present those identification cards in order to vote.

Despite the opposition's allegations of a secretive campaign to discourage voting, the official turnout yesterday neared record levels with more than 77 percent of the electorate casting ballots.