Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Hollow Milosevic Victory

A low turnout takes the gloss off Milosevic's electoral victory in Montenegro
By Milka Tadic-Mijovic

Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist Peoples Party, SNP, scored a hollow victory in the federal elections, as most voters stayed away from the polling stations.


The Podgorica government said over 75 per cent of the electorate heeded its call for a boycott of the ballot, in protest over recent constitutional changes forced through by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


Unofficial reports from Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, observers also have the turnout at 24 per cent.


"These elections are proof of yet another defeat for the aggressive policy pushed by Belgrade and its SNP allies," said Miodrag Vukovic, President Djukanovic's adviser.


The majority of those who did participate voted for Milosevic and the SNP, led by Belgrade loyalist and Montenegrin federal prime minister Momir Bulatovic. Preliminary unofficial results have Kostunica on 10 per cent, Milosevic on 90 per cent, while the SNP are thought to have won 29 seats in the federal parliament's lower house and 19 in the upper house.


The SNP, the Federal Election Committee in Montenegro and the DOS all agree the majority voted for Milosevic. But estimates on the turnout vary widely. Election committee president Neven Gosovic claims 35 per cent of voters cast their ballots, while the deputy leader of the SNP, Zoran Zizic, says 43 per cent participated.


The DOS, which had monitors at almost every polling station, and the Montenegrin government have accused the SNP of widespread electoral fraud.


"The voting in Serbia could be regarded as fair compared to Montenegro," said Goran Vesic, a DOS representative.


Due to the government boycott, the SNP organised the ballot themselves in unofficial polling stations. DOS monitors were prevented from overseeing voting inside polling stations and from inspecting the electoral rolls. In some areas of northern Montenegro, military police entered the polling stations to "inspect" ballot boxes, allegedly intimidating voters and staff.


DOS monitors reported many instances of voters being allowed to cast their ballots without presenting any form of identification. One DOS monitor claimed the SNP also abused postal votes aimed at those too sick or disabled to travel to a polling station.


"The sick and disabled were not the ones who voted," the monitor claimed. " Instead SNP representatives circled Milosevic's name on the ballot papers before posting them in the ballot boxes themselves."


The SNP accused the Montenegrin government of using aggressive tactics to intimidate potential voters into staying at home.


"That's only an excuse to justify their defeat," said Vukovic. "Their main problem now is bringing such a small number of votes from Montenegro to their leader in Belgrade."


Even if the SNP estimates of voter turnout are accurate, Milosevic could only expect around 110,000 votes from Montenegro - not enough to overturn his reversal in Serbia, where millions have voted for his rival Vojislav Kostunica.


Milosevic could certainly do with the SNP's seats in both houses of the federal parliament. But can the Yugoslav president rely on their continued support in the wake of electoral defeat in Serbia?


During the campaign Kostunica and DOS made numerous approaches to the SNP. Kostunica's economic advisor Mladjan Dinkic was first to announce a possible coalition with Bulatovic's Socialists.


"If I win the election I would offer the position of federal prime minister to the SNP," Kostunica said two weeks before the poll.


Throughout the run-up to the elections the SNP spurned offers from the opposition and denied any behind the scenes negotiations were underway. On Monday rumours spread that Bulatovic had resigned over his party's failure to secure a strong pro-Belgrade turnout. SNP officials deny the reports.


But analysts suspect the election set-backs have deepened divisions within the SNP. A so-called 'soft' or Podgorica faction around SNP deputy president Pedgrag Bulatovic could side with the opposition if Milosevic is forced to concede defeat.


Srdjan Darmanovic, the director of the Centre for Democracy, believes the Socialists could use their large number of newly acquired seats in the federal parliament as a lifebelt. Although the legitimacy of the seats is in question, Darmanovic said "part of the SNP might reach agreement with the Serbian opposition, which needs their support to ensure a majority in both houses of the federal parliament."


Should Milosevic step aside, the federal parliament could play a vital transitory role. The Montenegrin SNP deputies, whatever the legitimacy of their victory, would serve an important function within this body. With Milosevic out of the way, negotiations with the Podgorica Socialists could be conducted without further problems.


Having lost their Belgrade patron, the SNP would be forced into forming new coalitions and partnerships, and to abandon the repressive political methods so beloved of Milosevic.


Milka Tadic-Mijovic is editor of the Podgorica weekly magazine Monitor.