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Montenegrin Referendum Formula
Montenegrin political parties have reached a provisional agreement on a date for parliamentary elections which pro-Belgrade deputies insist must be held prior to a referendum on independence.
The parties agreed last Saturday to pencil April 22 for the assembly ballot, but confirmation will depend on them reaching a consensus on a date for a referendum.
The announcement came two weeks after President Milo Djukanovic's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, unexpectedly called for an early election closely followed by a plebiscite on secession from Yugoslavia.
Djukanovic's original proposal for a parliamentary ballot in March and a referendum in June caught everyone, especially the opposition, off-guard. Up to now, only the opposition has been advocating an election in advance of a plebiscite. The DPS has been resolutely against the idea.
The so-called opposition "Serbian block" - which is against Djukanovic's push for Montenegrin independence - had even threatened to boycott a referendum on secession unless the election was held prior to referendum.
Montenegrin parliamentary speaker and Djukanovic ally Svetozar Marovic pointed to the threatened boycott as the reason for the early election announcement.
The opposition argued Djukanovic's minority government - which came about after the departure of coalition allies the People's Party, NS - had no authority to call a referendum on Montenegrin independence.
Although the decision to call an early parliamentary poll could be seen as a concession to the "Serbian block", it seems more likely Djukanovic is seeking to ensure any plebiscite on independence is perceived as fully legitimate inside Montenegro and abroad.
NS deputy president Predrag Popovic, however, accused the government of merely appearing to be generous to the opposition when really it was compelled to hold an election before a plebiscite.
Opposition's criticism of the DPS has been mounting ever since the NS left the ruling coalition in protest at the government's position on future relations with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which called for separate international recognition for Serbia and Montenegro.
The loudest advocates of Montenegrin independence, the Liberal Alliance, chose to back the DPS and called for a "rump" government to stay in office until a plebiscite could be organised.
Other parties in the "Serbian block" then joined the chorus of criticism against the minority government, demanding an election ahead of any referendum.
At a DPS leadership meeting on January 8, a majority supported the "election before a referendum" position. Marovic said, "The government needs support from the people, not only the parliament."
The decision has apparently satisfied both the "Serbian block" and pro-independence supporters as they subsequently agreed on an election date.
Ranko Krivokapic, a leader of DPS coalition partners the Social Democratic Party, SDP, said the offer on part of DPS had presented the "most comprehensive solution because it satisfied those who asked for elections and us who asked for a referendum."
NS leader Dragan Soc said an early ballot was "the only democratic way to solve the situation created after the government lost its legitimacy following our departure."
Predrag Bulatovic, deputy president of the largest opposition party, the Socialist People's Party, SNP, said that the DPS had met a long-standing request of his party.
The two pro-independence parties, the SDP and the Liberal Alliance, argue a parliamentary ballot before a plebiscite is unnecessary, but have said they will not run away from the challenge.
Podgorica political analyst Srdjan Darmanovic said, "This is the most legitimate path, and I think that is what motivated the DPS. The outcome of a referendum, after an election, will have much greater credibility both internally and externally."
The DPS has already set up its election headquarters, under the leadership of Djukanovic. The NS has followed suit.
Djukanovic is expected to formally announce the start of campaigning by late January or early February. By law, election campaigns must last a minimum 60 days.
It's too early to talk of results or future coalitions, but it is clear most votes will be split between the two main camps - the pro-independence lobby, headed by Djukanovic's DPS, and the federalists, headed by Bulatovic's SNP.
Zeljko Ivanovic is the owner and member of the board of Vijesti, independent daily newspaper from Podgorica
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