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Montenegro: Premier's Resignation Triggers Political Chaos

The alliance of pro-independence parties has fractured following the fall of the Prime Minister, but it may yet survive - if only to stop pro-Yugoslav forces from taking over.
By Zoran Radulovic

Montenegro's political factions are frantically regrouping in the aftermath of the resignation of the republic's pro-independence government last week. The backstage manoeuvring may see erstwhile enemies, bitterly divided over independence, becoming coalition partners.


Filip Vujanovic resigned as premier last Friday after an EU-sponsored deal on retaining a common state with Serbia brought down the administration. Vujanovic's attempt to preserve the pro-independence minority government failed after its coalition partners withdrew support.


The resignation may lead to several unexpected developments. New parliamentary elections are one possibility; President Milo Djukanovic might change sides and become a partner of the pro-Yugoslav bloc; or, alternatively, the pro-independence parties could rally under a different power-sharing agreement. The latter appears the most likely solution.


President Djukanovic, meanwhile, is in no hurry to nominate a government leader. And the law places no limit on the amount of time he can take to do so. He is unlikely to make a decision until next month's local elections, which will present a clearer picture of the popular will.


The independence issue has divided Montenegro since Djukanovic broke with the former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, in 1996. His anti-Milosevic rhetoric garnered international support while Milosevic was in power. But foreign sympathy waned when Djukanovic persevered with his independence campaign, despite the emergence of a new government in Serbia.


Pressure from Brussels to retain links with Serbia has steadily increased, prompting Podgorica to reluctantly consent to form a new common state. On March 14, Djukanovic and Vujanovic signed an agreement with Belgrade postponing the promised referendum on independence for at least three years.


The deal triggered a political crisis, as the coalition partners of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the Liberal Alliance, LS, withdrew support for the government. Their coalition agreement with the DPS was conditional on the plebiscite being held by the end of the year.


But some suggest that the coalition may yet survive. As soon as Vujanovic resigned, the SDP and DPS announced cooperation between pro-independence parties should continue. Zarko Rakcevic, a top SDP official, said an early election would "waste considerable social energy and slow down ongoing reforms".


The real fear of the pro-independence parties is that they will lose ground in an early election. Recent polls show their support is now level with that of pro-Yugoslav parties. At the same time, surveys suggest the number of the voters who plan not to vote at all has more than doubled from 8 to 19 per cent. Analysts also believe those threatening to abstain are mainly erstwhile supporters of independence.


Djukanovic's pro-independence partners have come under intense pressure from the international community and from Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief and the main architect of the deal with Serbia.


Europe's tough talk seems to have paid off. Since Solana's meeting in Brussels earlier this month with the SDP and LS leaders, Ranko Krivokapic and Miodrag Zivkovic respectively, both parties have changed their tune and moderated criticism of the Belgrade agreement.


The Liberals staged the most dramatic U-turn. After damning the deal with Belgrade as "an act of treason" at their party convention on April 21, they then announced "they would work on the implementation of the Belgrade agreement".


This change of tack reflects more than EU pressure. The Liberals know independence is still possible, but only if pro-independence parties retain power. The agreement, after all, merely obliges Montenegro to postpone a decision for three years.


However, the reunification of the former ruling coalition in some form or other is by no means certain. Animosity between the DPS and LS may obstruct further cooperation and force Djukanovic's DPS to turn instead to the pro-Yugoslav bloc for support. Squabbling has plagued both the pro-independence and pro-Yugoslav blocs.


Zoran Radulovic is a journalist with the Podgorica weekly Monitor.