Montenegro: Liberal Switch Heralds Early Elections

In an unexpected political U-turn Montenegrin separatists have joined forces with parties supporting continued union with Serbia

Montenegro: Liberal Switch Heralds Early Elections

In an unexpected political U-turn Montenegrin separatists have joined forces with parties supporting continued union with Serbia

The founders of the Montenegrin pro-independence movement have formed an alliance with pro-Yugoslavia parties in a move almost certain to result in early parliamentary elections this autumn.

The Montenegrin Liberal Alliance, the long-time backbone of the Montenegrin separatist project, linked up with the opposition "Together For Yugoslavia" coalition earlier this week. The two groups combined now control two-thirds of Montenegro's 21 municipalities.

The move has sent a clear signal to President Milo Djukanovic and his pro-independence coalition that the Liberal Alliance has no intention of helping him form a government. Without the latter's support, early elections look inevitable.

The Liberals took the step following their disappointment with Djukanovic, who under intense international pressure, signed the so-called Belgrade Agreement on March 14, which envisages the preservation of the union between Serbia and Montenegro. A referendum on independence, which the president had promised to the Liberals, was also postponed for three years.

For a number of years, Montenegro has been split over the issue of continued union with Serbia. While Slobodan Milosevic held the Yugoslav presidency, Djukanovic and his pro-independence movement enjoyed international support. But now that Milosevic is gone, the West is pushing to preserve the Balkan federation in some form, principally to avoid further complications in resolving the status of Kosovo.

Djukanovic's signature on the March 14 agreement fractured the separatist bloc, within which the Liberals played a small, but crucial role.

At the April 2001 elections, the Djukanovic bloc scored only the narrowest of victories over the 'Together for Yugoslavia' coalition. In exchange for a promise of a referendum on independence, the Liberals agreed to support him in parliament, but refused to join the government.

Their support had been critical for Djukanovic's minority administration - made up of his Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP. When the Liberals withdrew their backing following the signing of the Belgrade Agreement, the government of Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic promptly collapsed.

There followed several weeks of fruitless negotiations between the Liberals, the DPS and SDP on forming a new administration. In late April, Djukanovic again invited the Liberals to join a future government. They agreed to do so on condition Vujanovic not be re-appointed prime minister - a demand the president was not prepared to consider.

Clearly patience has run out and the Liberals have opted instead to try and undermine Djukanovic and the DPS at local level with the aid of the pro-Yugoslav opposition.

The Liberals have criticised Djukanovic and his associates in the past for alleged involvement in cigarette smuggling and corruption, but had chosen not to make too much of the claims in the hope of advancing the independence project.

The attacks on the president have now been renewed. On June 24, Slavko Perovic, a leader of the Liberal Alliance, said, "Djukanovic is protecting the interests of the oligarchy, his own, personal interests and the interests of his friends in the DPS."

Djukanovic openly acknowledges these latest developments can only result in early elections. At a meeting of economists in Budva on June 26, he said, "The crisis in Montenegro is very deep and the only solution lies in elections at all levels. These could take place in the autumn".

The "Together for Yugoslavia" coalition together with the votes of the Liberal deputies would achieve a majority in the republican parliament. Though, Djukanovic, for obvious reasons is reluctant to ask them to form a new government and believes that he and his supporters could defeat them in early elections.

Djukanovic's party is optimistic that some Liberal voters will be sufficiently disgusted by their party's strange new alliance with the anti-independence bloc that they will switch to the DPS. They hope new elections will secure a firmer majority for the DPS, the SDP and Montenegro's two tiny Albanian parties.

But the president's political rivals are equally confident of defeating his coalition. " I see no reason why we could not be partners in government with the Liberal Alliance and with the Democratic Party of Socialists as the opposition. The DPS has dictated Montenegro's political life for 12 years and its time that it moved into opposition," said Dragan Soc, one of the leaders in the "Together for Yugoslavia" coalition.

Political analysts agree on one thing - it would be better for the president to call new elections, than to effectively surrender power by appointing a new prime minister from within the ranks of the "Together for Yugoslavia" and Liberal Alliance parliamentary majority.

Nedjeljko Rudovic is a journalist with the Podgorica daily Vijesti

Serbia, Kosovo
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