Montenegro: Opposition Orders Poll Boycott

Djukanovic rivals plan to boycott presidential election in the hope that it's declared invalid.

Montenegro: Opposition Orders Poll Boycott

Djukanovic rivals plan to boycott presidential election in the hope that it's declared invalid.

Montenegro's opposition parties plan to boycott this month's elections to stop the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, seizing all the levers of power - and save themselves from another drubbing at the polls.

After suffering defeat in October 20's early parliamentary elections, the opposition decided last Saturday to boycott the December 22 presidential poll, which will probably then be annulled because of the poor turnout.

This will frustrate DPS ambitions to grab all key state posts after Milo Djukanovic stepped down from the presidency to become prime minister, the more powerful post, on November 26.

The main opposition Socialist People's Party, SNP, initiated the boycott, then urged the smaller parties in the opposition coalition that participated in the October ballot to join in. The People's Party, NS, readily agreed to do so while the Serb National Party, SNS, missed the December 2 deadline to register for the elections.

By law, parties intending to take part in the ballot must present candidates at least 20 days before the vote.

The fourth opposition party, the Liberal Alliance, LS, said at the end of October that it was not interested in contesting the presidential vote "in a situation in which all the power is concentrated in the hands of Milo Djukanovic".

For the opposition parties, a boycott presents the least painful way to avoid a second serious defeat within two months. Djukanovic scored a landslide victory in October, winning a majority of parliamentary seats with his Social Democrat Party, SDP, allies.

He was forced to go to the polls after his old liberal partners turned their backs on his government for signing the Belgrade Agreement, which committed Montenegro to remaining in a common state with Serbia for at least three years.

The LS then withdrew support and joined the pro-Yugoslav opposition, the coalition Together for Change, to topple the president. However, Djukanovic's alliance of parties went on to win the elections, paving the way for a repeat performance in the presidential ballot later this month.

Vujanovic, prime minister and deputy leader of the DPS, was proclaimed the party's candidate for president on November 29. The next day, the SNP called on its voters not to turn out for the presidential election.

The opposition's calculation is clear. Electoral law stipulates that more than half of registered voters must turn out for the presidential elections to be valid.

If the followers of the SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic and the rest of the pro-Yugoslav Together for Change coalition fail to vote, the ruling parties' candidate must secure at least 230,000 ballots.

But the victorious DPS-SDP coalition won only 167,000 votes in the recent parliamentary election. With the support of their allies among the ethnic Albanian parties they might get 175,000. This is still 55,000 less than they need.

As well as thwarting Djukanovic, a boycott will save the opposition from having its declining ratings exposed. It would be an added humiliation if their candidate won fewer than the 153,000 votes they got on October 20. Bulatovic might then be forced to hold an early SNP congress to vote on his leadership.

Confusion and dissent already plague the opposition ranks. Predrag Drecun, a leading NS official, has left the party after failing to force it to leave the coalition. Slavko Perovic a well-known LS public figure, has quit politics altogether.

Officially, the opposition claims it will not take part in the vote because they claim it will not be free and fair. "Over the past few years the elections have all been undemocratic," an SNP said in a statement. "The presidential vote will be even worse."

Miodrag Vlahovic of the Podgorica Centre for Regional and Security Studies said the boycott was a sign of political weakness among the "pro-Serbian" parties in Montenegro.

He pointed out that the parties agreed at the time that the October 20 parliamentary elections had been fair and democratic. "Bulatovic realises that if he lost [the presidential vote] his political career - and that of the SNP - would be in serious danger," he claimed.

The ruling parties are putting a brave fact on the fact that victory may be snatched from them by a constitutional technicality. "I am sure they [the voters] will turn out in sufficient numbers despite the SNP decision, inflicting yet another defeat on them, as Filip Vujanovic will triumph in the first round," said DPS spokesman Igor Luksic.

He went on to say that the SDP said the SNP decision to boycott the poll was "a clear sign that Bulatovic knows he has no chance of achieving even the result he got in the parliamentary elections".

If his close ally Vujanovic wins the presidential ballot, Prime Minister Djukanovic will be in control of all the key levers of power. The constitution places most executive decisions in the hands of the government, with the president limited to matters such as nominating constitutional court judges and calling referenda.

If less than half the electorate turns out for the presidential election and it has to be repeated, the law does not specify a time frame for a new poll. However, the 50 per cent threshold is not necessary for the second round to be declared valid.

So the opposition may succeed in blocking the DPS for a while, but if another ballot is held, Djukanovic's political foes will have to find a new way to stop him.

Nedjelko Rudovic is a journalist with Podgorica daily Vijesti and a regular IWPR contributor

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