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

Montenegrin Rivals Consider Coalition

The president may be preparing a new accommodation with bitter rivals which could further delay a referendum on independence
By Milka Tadic

Faced with the loss of a clear-cut majority in last April's elections - and possible trouble over an alleged cigarette smuggling venture involving the Balkan mafia - President Milo Djukanovic appears to be seeking to form a broad coalition government to mend internal divisions within the country.

The topic was discussed during a series of meetings in August with leaders of the republic's political parties, which also explored a tentative timetable for holding a referendum on Montenegro's independence.

The formation of a broad coalition would alleviate tensions within the republic, and help to mend the schism between two equally powerful political blocs that either support or oppose President Djukanovic's quest for independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In the first indication that a new accommodation might be on the cards, Djukanovic met Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the pro-Serbian coalition Together for Yugoslavia, in early August in Podgorica's opulent Vila Gorica, a venue usually reserved for special guests.

It was their first face-to-face meeting since 1997, when the Montenegrin president repudiated Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia, while Bulatovic remained faithful until the Yugoslav leader's overthrow in October 2000.

The meeting of the two rivals comes at a time when both are politically weakened. Milosevic's extradition to The Hague has created serious gap between Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party, SNP, and their Belgrade partners in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, DOS, led by President Vojislav Kostunica. No parties outside the pro-Yugoslav bloc participate in the federal government.

The power struggle within the coalition between Kostunica and Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia is also making Bulatovic uneasy. The fate of both the Yugoslav federation and his own SNP, a partner in the federal government, hangs in the balance. If Djindjic - who has close ties with Djukanovic - prevails, neither the dying Yugoslav federation nor the fate of Bulatovic's SNP will be among his political priorities.

Djukanovic stands to gain most from in-fighting within the 18-party DOS coalition, since instability in Belgrade can only strengthen his project for Montenegrin independence. But the president's personal power was seriously undermined in the April 22 elections when the Victory Belongs to Montenegro alliance, formed around his own Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, only scraped to victory over Bulatovic's pro-Yugoslav bloc by three seats.

This slender margin forced the president to put his cherished independence vote on the back burner. The fall of Milosevic six months earlier had already shifted public perceptions against the questionable economic benefits of secession. Djukanovic was further weakened by a series of articles in the Croatian news weekly Nacional which first appeared this spring, alleging that he is connected to an organised cigarette smuggling ring in the Balkans.

After the election results were in, Djukanovic's DPS entered into alliance with the pro-independence Liberal Union Party, whose six seats proved crucial in obtaining the required majority in the 77-seat parliament. But while the Liberals want to kick-start the independence process immediately, the president is under increasing international pressure to keep it on hold.

Following the April elections, Bulatovic said that his pro-Yugoslav bloc would boycott the referendum unless is it was organised by a broad coalition government. He has further insisted that a fair vote could only be guaranteed if a non-partisan administration took over the all-powerful ministry of internal affairs, opened secret intelligence files and freed the state media to represent equally the views of both sides in the independence debate. He also called for a reform of the current voter lists.

In the meantime, Djukanovic met with Dragan Soc, leader of the People's Party, NS, and Bozidar Bojovic, of the Serbian People's Party, SNS, both from Together for Yugoslavia. He also held top-level meetings with Zarko Rakcevic, leader of his coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, and with the Democratic Union of Albanians. But Miodrag Zivkovic, president of the Liberals, refused to meet the president.

Since April, the Liberals have lobbied for the continuation of a minority government, with the precondition that it organises the referendum no later then the beginning of 2002. They accuse Djukanovic of holding secret meetings with Bulatovic with a view to ditching the referendum project altogether. They say that the current minority government is able to organise a fair and democratic referendum without forming a broader coalition.

"If Djukanovic and Bulatovic can reach an agreement concerning the solution of the problems in Montenegro," the Liberals' Miodrag Zivkovic told the Podgorica's daily Vijesti, "it will mean that referendum will never take place."

The two main parties in the pro-Yugoslav coalition, the People's Party and Bulatovic's SNP, appear to harbour few reservations about joining in a broad coalition with Djukanovic. But Bozidar Bojovic of the Serbian People's Party, also from the pro-Yugoslav bloc, said he would not countenance a broad coalition and would support early elections instead.

Zarko Rakcevic, leader of Social Democratic Party and one of Djukanovic's own coalition partners, is dead set against the idea.

"If a broad coalition government is formed," he said recently - meaning a linkage between Djukanovic, Bulatovic and Soc - "it would certainly lead to new elections. Fifty-five per cent of Montenegrins did not vote for such a government, and it would represent some sort of deceit."

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