Montenegrin Stalemate

Neither pro-independence nor pro-Yugoslav forces have gained significant ground in this week's Montenegrin local elections

Montenegrin Stalemate

Neither pro-independence nor pro-Yugoslav forces have gained significant ground in this week's Montenegrin local elections

Cars took to the streets of Podgorica early on Monday morning to celebrate President Milo Djukanovic's local election triumph in the capital. "We have won thousands more votes more than in previous elections. Our main opponents lost four and a half thousand votes. Our victory represents a real triumph in the capital for our policies," President Djukanovic told supporters of his victorious "For a Better Life" coalition.


But the champagne flowing in government headquarters, the dancing in the streets and the chants of "Milo, Milo" masked concern over the other result, in the coastal town of Herceg Novi. There, the "Yugoslavia" coalition led by Milosevic loyalist and former Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic had triumphed.


Unofficial results for the June 11 poll suggest that Djukanovic's coalition won 28 of the total 55 seats in the Podgorica parliament, while "Yugoslavia" will now control Herceg Novi, where it won 19 out of 35 seats in the local assembly.


There were celebrations in Herceg Novi too, where they waved Yugoslav and Serbian flags, toasted Slobodan Milosevic and sang Chetnik songs. It all felt like a throw-back to the early nineties, when the Montenegrins fought with the Serbs against Croatia and Bosnia. "Serbia is our state and we will work for it in Herzeg Novi," future mayor, Djuro Cetkovic said in excitment.


The biggest loser in these elections is the Liberal Alliance, the pro-independence party which precipitated a crisis and forced early elections in the two towns by leaving the ruling alliance. The Liberals were banking on a bigger share of power in these elections, but they won only four seats in Podgorica and two in Herceg Novi. Moreover, they have lost their previous leverage, as the ruling coalition won enough seats to govern without them.


Podgorica, which comprises a quarter of the total electorate, is important for Djukanovic, so his improved performance there is good news. By contrast, Herceg Novi is home to only five per cent of the electorate, yet the psychological impact of a victory for pro-Milosevic forces in this coastal town far outweighs its numerical significance.


For Momir Bulatovic, the regaining of Herceg Novi marks the first turn around in a series of election defeats following presidential elections of 1997. Bulatovic probably got the votes of several thousand Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia who have settled in the town, but the pre-election strategy of the ruling coalition will have contributed to their defeat.


In pre-election campaigning in Herceg Novi, Svetozar Marovic, the chief campaigner for "A Better Life", tried to beat the "Yugoslavia" coalition at its own game, with patriotic pro-Yugoslav rhetoric, which paled in comparison to the real thing.


It seems neither pro-independence nor pro-Yugoslav forces have gained significant ground in this election.


Despite the defeat in Herceg Novi, anti-Milosevic forces are growing, but not fast enough for President Djukanovic to risk a referendum on independence.


Milka Tadic is the editor of the Podgorica-based Monitor magazine


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