Djukanovic's Dilemma

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic faces a tough choice if he is to secure a majority government

Djukanovic's Dilemma

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic faces a tough choice if he is to secure a majority government

Despite winning the April 22 general election, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has lost much of the political power he enjoyed for over a decade.


Djukanovic's "Victory for Montenegro" bloc won 42 per cent of the vote - two per cent more than their closest rivals, the "Together For Yugoslavia" coalition - taking 36 of the 77 seats in parliament. This, however, was not enough to form a majority government.


As a result, the president has been obliged to consider forming a coalition with long-term political opponents, the Liberal Alliance, winners of six valuable seats in the new parliament. The issue of Montenegrin independence forms the only common ground between the two parties.


On April 27, the Liberals offered to enter a coalition if a referendum on independence was held within six months of referendum legislation coming into effect. Presenting a six-page document outlining terms, it called for parliament to agree to a plebiscite at its first regular session.


"The deadline for holding the referendum should not be longer than six months from the day the Montenegrin parliament decides to schedule it," the document said.


The Liberals also demanded key ministerial posts, revision of suspicious privatisation contracts and proportional taxation. Its leader Miodrag Zivkovic said his party was interested in the posts of deputy president, interior minister, justice minister and state prosecutor.


The price quoted by the Liberals may be too high for Djukanovic. The interior ministry has long been a Djukanovic powerbase. The president and the new economic class around him could be directly affected by the Liberals proposals.


Immediately after the election, a senior member of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, said, "Coalition with the Liberals is natural". Aside from support for independence, however, there's much that divides the two parties.


Since its foundation in 1990, the Liberals have been one of fiercest opponents of Djukanovic and his party.


Even on the issue of independence, the parties differ with the Liberals chasing total independence and the president favouring a reshaped Yugoslav "alliance" of independent states.


By calling for the referendum to be postponed for more than six months, the Liberals have demonstrated they have an ear for the political reality. The pro-Yugoslav bloc has already warned it would call for a boycott of a plebiscite.


More than 50 per cent of the electorate must be in favour of independence for any result to be legitimate. And although the pro-independence bloc as a whole won 56 per cent of the vote on April 22, this did not equal 50 per cent of the total electorate.


Around 20 per cent of voters didn't bother to turn up at the polls. A boycott by pro-Yugoslav supporters could make the pro-independence parties' job extremely difficult.


Independence for Montenegro is a founding principle of the Liberals. During the 1990s, the party was at the forefront of the anti-war movement and opposed the republic's union with Serbia. It protested against the Djukanovic government's blind adherence to the politics of the then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.


Only in 1997 did the Djukanovic government turn its back on Milosevic. The Liberals, however, kept on at the Montenegrin president, reminding voters at every turn of the days when Djukanovic backed the former Yugoslav leader, of the wars Montenegro participated in, and the sanctions and international isolation which followed.


Even after Djukanovic began to push for Montenegrin independence, the Liberals refused to be reconciled, accusing the president of "stealing their programme". The party charged the DPS with Milosevic-style tendencies.


The Liberals concentrated on the major problems plaguing Montenegrin society under DPS rule - the lack of transparency in the privatisation process and corruption among the new economic class, which amassed its wealth through connections within government and the huge police apparatus.


Djukanovic was accused of maintaining a communist-style monopoly on power instead of implementing economic reforms, introducing market reforms and democratising the republic.


The DPS is afraid to turn control of the police over to the Liberals, especially if Zivkovic's party also takes over the post of state prosecutor and secures an investigation into dubious privatisation deals. Such enquiries could undermine the DPS's credibility and perhaps even that of Djukanovic himself.


Djukanovic and the DPS therefore find themselves confronting a great dilemma. By entering a coalition with the Liberals, the internal structure of the Djukanovic regime could be undone. The president is weighing up what the Liberals' priority might be - independence or the dismantling of his system of government.


Although the Liberals went public with their proposals on April 27, negotiations with the DPS have yet to begin. The latter's party's leadership appears unsure what to do next.


If coalition with the Liberals is rejected as too costly, then the DPS has two choices - call new elections or realign with the anti-independence "Together For Yugoslavia" bloc. Such a move is favoured by Belgrade and the international community, but would be tantamount to a betrayal of those who voted for a clearly pro-independence party on April 22.


Milka Tadic-Mijovic is IWPR's Project Editor and editor of Podgorica weekly, Monitor


Serbia
Support our journalists