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

Montenegro: Government's Man Set for Election Walkover

Break-up of main opposition coalition leaves the field wide open for Filip Vujanovic
By Boris Darmanovic

With less than a fortnight to go before the republic's presidential election, the race looks unlikely to end with a nail-biting finish.


The failure of the main opposition bloc to put up a candidate has handed almost certain victory to Filip Vujanovic, standard-bearer for the ruling coalition of the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP.


The break-up of the opposition Together for Change coalition means that its 130,000 supporters have effectively been left with no candidate to vote for in the May 11 poll.


They are unlikely to switch support to Vujanovic's remaining competitors, the Liberal Alliance, LSCG, leader Miodrag Zivkovic and Dragan Hajdukovic, an independent.


Both men support independence for Montenegro, which is anathema to the traditionally pro-Serbian and pro-federal slant of Together for Change's component parties, the Socialist Popular Party, SNP, the National Party, NS, and the Serbian National Party, SNS.


Nor are Zivkovic and Hajdukovic likely to pose a threat to Vujanovic, who can probably count on some 170,000 votes.


The election follows two abortive polls held last December and this January, which failed to deliver a winner after the Liberal Alliance and Together for Change boycotted the proceedings.


Their abstention meant the DPS-SDP coalition candidate was unable to claim the support of at least 50 per cent of all registered Montenegrin voters, which was the threshold set by electoral law. Only 45 per cent of voters cast ballots in December and 47 per cent in January, of whom 80 per cent, or 175,000, voted for Vujanovic.


After the second ballot failed, parliament heeded international advice and scrapped the 50 per cent threshold. Now the winning candidate needs only to gain 50 per cent of the cast ballots.


Together for Change and the Liberal Alliance tried to come up with a joint candidate in March, but the attempt failed after the pro-Serbian parties refused to back the liberals' choice.


Montenegro's ambassador to Italy, Miodrag Lekic, the former interior minister Andrija Jovicevic and Zorica Tajic Rabrenovic, a former official of the SNP, the largest coalition party, then all declined to be nominated.


The SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic on April 16 also turned down the nomination; apparently he felt he had only been nominated as the candidate of the last resort. The SNS and the NS saw this as an attempt to break up the coalition and on April 23 they declared it no longer existed.


As a result, only three candidates entered the presidential race, the smallest number in the history of multi-party politics in Montenegro, which has seen five presidential ballots over the last 13 years.


If the balance of power in the last parliamentary elections last October is taken as a yardstick, the outcome is easy to guess. In the two recent abortive presidential polls, Vujanovic garnered 174,000 votes, while Hajdukovic took only 15,000. The LSCG candidate, Zivkovic, did not run in those elections, but his party won about 20,000 votes in the previous parliamentary ballot.


The liberals' only - highly theoretical - hope is to scoop all the 130,000 or so votes that might have gone to the now defunct Together for Change coalition, along with Hajdukovic's voters in the run-off. That might yield a total sum of 170,000.


But this outcome looks like wishful thinking. According to Lisa McLean, director of the US think-tank, the National Democratic Institute in Podgorica, even if all three coalition parties urged their supporters to back the liberal candidate, few are likely to answer the call.


"Voters from this coalition oppose independence, which the Liberals advocate, and not all of them would respond to a call to support Zivkovic," McLean said.


She added that the coalition's failure to select its own candidate has probably lost it some of its old voters. McLean maintained that with a clear programme and a good candidate, the LSCG and the Together for Change might have had a chance of winning up to a few months ago.


Rade Bojovic, an analyst agreed that Vujanovic has no plausible rival. "Even if Together for Change backs the liberal candidate, they still won't pose a threat to Vujanovic," he said.


Bojovic said the long-term consequences of the likely shoo-in are significant, and by no means positive. "At present, Montenegro has neither a government that is motivated to enact reforms, or an opposition that can threaten its stability," he said. "That is why society faces the prospect of years of agony without any major positive changes."


Even Milo Djukanovic, the prime minister and president of the ruling DPS, has admitted it is unfortunate for the government not to face a strong opposition. "It's a problem for us that we lack a serious and constructive political alternative," he told journalists on April 23.


Nebojsa Medojevic, co-coordinator for the Group for Change, a lobby group advocating rapid economic, social and political reforms, said the absence of a serious candidate endangers the development of democracy in Montenegro, as it relieves the government of all external pressure.


He foresees internal divisions springing up inside the government instead. "The battle against the pro-Serbian opposition is what kept the government together," he said. "Winning that battle may now lead to internecine conflict between conservatives and reformists."


Medojevic said the collapse of the opposition coalition was almost inevitable, as it had no real social or economic programme beyond its support for the federation with Serbia. The recent conversion of the old Yugoslav federation into a new, looser state union between Serbia and Montenegro means that is no longer a burning issue.


Boris Darmanovic is IWPR's Podgorica coordinator.