Federal Premier Dilemma

The tortuous process of finding a new federal prime minister has got underway.

Federal Premier Dilemma

The tortuous process of finding a new federal prime minister has got underway.

Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica began the unenviable task on Monday, July 2, of appointing a new federal prime minister from the ranks of Montenegro's disgruntled politicians. Failure to put a new Yugoslav government in place within three months will trigger new elections.

This latest political turmoil broke out on June 29 when Zoran Zizic, deputy chairman of the Montenegro's Socialist People's Party, SNP, resigned as federal prime minister in disgust at the Serbian government's decision to extradite former president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague.

"Our people and state were humiliated," he said.

The SNP's departure ended their coalition with the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, and brought down the federal government. Yugoslavia, whose foundations have been rocked by years of disagreements between Podgorica and Belgrade, now finds itself in a new crisis and with no obvious way out.

Kostunica will now have to conjure up a new government or face early elections - neither particularly pleasant prospects. It will all depend on the SNP, Montenegro's main pro-Yugoslav party. A boycott of last year's federal elections by Podgorica's ruling pro-independence parties, left the SNP with all the Montenegrin seats in the federal assembly. No new administration can be approved in the Yugoslav parliament without their support.

But neither elections nor agreement on a new government represents a permanent solution to the problems between Serbia and Montenegro. Even if Kostunica succeeds in pulling together a new administration, it will not be recognised by the majority in Montenegro, which voted for the pro-independence block in the April 22 general election. And the pro-independence parties in Montenegro would almost certainly boycott any federal elections, just as they did in September last year.

The SNP is refusing to comment on whether they favour an early ballot or the cobbling together of another government. But it is more probable that after some protracted and painful negotiations, they will accept a compromise solution from Kostunica, a man much closer to their position than the rival DOS faction grouped around Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

That compromise solution could prove extremely elusive, however. Under the Yugoslav constitution, if the federal president is from Serbia, the federal prime minister must hail from Montenegro. Kostunica must therefore find a candidate from Montenegro acceptable to the SNP and to the disparate Serbian parties in the DOS coalition. There is, however, very little room for manoeuvre in Montenegro. Kostunica has just begun talks on this thorny problem. But finding someone to do the job may end up being next to impossible.

Clearly, Montenegro's ruling coalition parties, the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, will not provide a candidate. In the wake of a Milosevic inspired constitutional coup on July 6 last year, both parties refused to recognise federal institutions and boycotted the last Yugoslav elections. They therefore have no representation in the federal parliament.

Moreover, the DPS-SDP coalition, led by Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic, advocates independence for the tiny republic and heaved a huge sigh of relief last week when the federal government collapsed. Kostunica can expect no support from Djukanovic.

The Yugoslav president therefore needs to find a new prime minister from the ranks of the pro-Yugoslav Montenegrin opposition. Besides the SNP, this leaves the Serbian People's Party, SNS, led by Bozidar Bojevic, and Dragan Soc's People's Party, NS.

The SNS has only two deputies in the Montenegrin parliament, purely because of their coalition with the SNP. It seems unlikely Kostunica can find a prime minister there.

Newspaper speculation has pointed to Predrag Drecun, NS executive board chairman. The party is ideologically very close to Kostunica's Democratic Party and could produce a candidate acceptable to other members of DOS. The party rejected Milosevic's war policy back in the mid-1990s and several DOS leaders have commented that the NS is their "natural partner" in Montenegro, much more so than the pro-Milosevic SNP.

But such a move risks irreparably damaging the credibility of federal institutions. The NS only recently broke away from an alliance with Djukanovic. Just before the April 22 elections, it joined the 'Together for Yugoslavia' coalition alongside the SNP and SNS. Crucially, however, the party boycotted the Yugoslav elections last September and as a result has no deputies in the federal assembly.

As SDP president Ranko Krivokapic said, "It would be unprecedented for a party with no deputies to obtain the post of prime minister."

Krivokapic also pointed out that the NS deputies in the Montenegrin assembly voted in favour of a resolution denouncing all federal institutions as illegal and illegitimate after the July 2000 constitutional coup. "They don't recognise the federal parliament that elects the prime minister," he said.

It is also unlikely the SNP deputies in the Yugoslav assembly would back any NS candidate as this would only strengthen the position of the latter at home. The People's Party's share of the vote in Montenegro increased considerably following it's switch to the 'Together with Yugoslavia' block and a firm alliance with Belgrade could only enhance their position further.

The SNP has yet to comment on the Drecun candidacy. But the man himself said, "I think it is not realistic for me to be a prime minister." Drecun did confirm his party would participate in negotiations on forming a new government, but said he expected the SNP to take part too.

So Kostunica is stuck with continuing to pursue an unnatural alliance with the ardently pro-Milosevic SNP. Disagreements between the SNP and DOS date back to early spring and focused especially on cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal. Although the SNP ostensibly ditched the former president following his fall in October 2000, the party continued to block efforts to introduce a federal law allowing for the extradition of Yugoslav citizens.

The international aid donors' conference in Brussels on June 29 intensified pressure on Belgrade to act or lose out on over a $1 billion in much needed funds. The Serbian government's dramatic and unilateral decision to dispatch Milosevic to The Hague on June 28 enraged Pedrag Bulatovic, leader of the SNP, who complained bitterly that DOS had pushed through a federal government decree on cooperation with the tribunal without the knowledge of his party. And then compounded the sin by flouting a constitutional court decision overruling the decree.

"A deep mistrust grew within the SNP towards a number of parties and politicians in DOS," Bulatovic said. "Differences are unbridgeable with some of them."

The SNP leader even branded some DOS leaders "extremists". It's no secret he has in mind Djindjic and Serbian justice minister Vladan Batic, both of whom were instrumental in Milosevic's transfer to The Hague.

With such divisions, it's unlikely a continued alliance between the Montenegrin opposition and Serbian ruling parties can produce long-term stability for the federation. When the Yugoslav government fell last week, Djukanovic said the union between Serbia and Montenegro cannot be maintained without majority support in each republic.

But, Kostunica will probably put off dialogue with Djukanovic in the hope of reaching some agreement with the Montenegrin opposition, thereby shoring up the current federal institutions.

Only if he fails will he start negotiating with Djukanovic over the future of Yugoslavia.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is IWPR's project editor in Montenegro.

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