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Montenegrin Deadlock Broken

Montenegro's Liberal Alliance back the formation of a minority government by the pro-independence bloc ending weeks of political deadlock
By Milka Tadic

The pro-independence bloc in Montenegro this week announced it would form a minority government, ending a bewildering round of political horse-trading.

The Liberal Alliance, which holds the crucial six seats in the new parliament, said it would back a new administration led by President Milo Djukanovic's pro-independence Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS.

Djukanovic's 'Victory is Montenegro's' coalition - combining the DPS and the Social Democratic Party - won 36 of the 77 parliamentary seats in the April 22 general election. With the support of the Liberals - stubborn supporters of Montenegrin independence since the early nineties - the coalition can now form a working government.

"The Liberal Alliance of Montenegro has decided to extend full support to a minority government, " said Liberal Alliance leader Slavko Perovic on Monday.

A party statement said, "This gives this political grouping the possibility to preserve absolute power in Montenegro and respect pre-election promises given to Montenegrin voters about scheduling a referendum on Montenegrin independence."

The Liberals' decision to back the president came as something of a surprise.

The day before, Djukanovic had rejected outright their proposals for forming a coalition government with his bloc. The previous week news broke that Perovic's party had been close to striking a deal with the anti-independence 'Together for Yugoslavia' coalition, which won 33 seats in the election.

The party had also attracted criticism for attempting to blackmail Djukanovic into handing them five more parliamentary seats and 120 million German marks.

It seems obvious that Djukanovic's latest move is simply a way of buying more time. Such an unstable government is unlikely to last. Djukanovic will simply be forced into calling new elections, which will unavoidably lead to a further postponement of the referendum. The project of an independent Montenegro has been called into question.

Senior Alliance members were outraged at developments in their party.

Marko Vesovic, a renowned poet and honorary president of Perovic's party, accused its leaders of dealing with the "butchers of Montenegro" in holding talks with the pro-Belgrade parties.

Milan Popovic, professor of law at Podgorica university and a Liberal supporter, was furious. "The Liberals got a mandate for one platform and entered negotiations with the political opponents of independence. This act is the biggest political fraud in recent Montenegrin history."

The ferocious criticism seems to have prompted the Liberals to send out feelers towards Djukanovic.

After the elections, the Liberals looked the most likely party to form a government with Djukanovic. The president immediately accepted their initial demands, including control of the interior ministry portfolio - a key source of Djukanovic's power.

Djukanovic waited ten nervous days for the Alliance to respond with a draft coalition agreement. But in fact they were holding secret, feverish negotiations with the president's arch rivals, Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the pro-Belgrade Socialist National Party and Bozidar Bojovic, leader of the Serbian People's Party.

These two parties campaigned on an anti-secession platform and threatened to boycott any referendum on independence.

At first, Alliance officials strongly denied rumours that talks were underway, but on May 20 - after the negotiations had broken down - they owned up and admitted they had been close to agreement.

Bulatovic and Bojovic, it transpired, had been prepared to back a minority Liberal Alliance government and would agree to a referendum on independence. But a third member of the 'Together for Yugoslavia' coalition, Dragan Soc, leader of the People's Party, had opposed the plebiscite concession and went public with details of the negotiations. He said he would not support an agreement which he was not party to drafting, but left the option of future negotiations open.

It's thought Bulatovic and Bojovic considered backing Perovic's party on the understanding that the resultant government would arrest members of Djukanovic's political elite immediately on taking office and shore up the Montenegrin interior ministry with people from Belgrade.

The settling of accounts with the president would be similar to the fate of ousted Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic after the Democratic Opposition of Serbia took power in October 2000. Without Djukanovic, the Montenegrin independence project would almost certainly stall.

Meanwhile, in the midst of their talks with the pro-Yugoslav parties, the Liberals sent their response to Djukanovic demanding he cede five more seats to their party. The president flatly refused - such a move would be unconstitutional and fly in the face of the electorate's decision.

It also appears the Liberals wanted money in exchange for their support. Liberal official Dejan Vucinic shamelessly told Radio Free Europe, "We did not ask for 20 million German marks from Djukanovic, as some speculated, but 120 million German marks. Milo Djukanovic had offered us 20 million marks. However, that is a very low price for our market and political value."

Djukanovic appears to view the Liberals as a lesser evil. His only other alternatives - calling new elections or striking a deal with the 'Together for Yugoslavia' coalition - would bring their own risks.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is IWPR's project editor, and editor of the Podgorica weekly magazine, Monitor

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