Montenegro: President Opts for Premiership

President Djukanovic becomes prime minister out of fears over his re-election prospects.

Montenegro: President Opts for Premiership

President Djukanovic becomes prime minister out of fears over his re-election prospects.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic has opted for the post of prime minister because he apparently fears running for re-election in December could damage his political career.

The president is said to be concerned that he might be hit by fresh allegations of involvement in cigarette smuggling and that an anticipated low turnout could lead to the December 22 ballot being declared invalid.

Though the decision, announced by his Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, on November 4, has shocked political circles, Djukanovic will still wield significant authority, as the premier has more executive power than the president.

Analysts believe the president fears that the opposition may not contest the December elections. After his For A European Montenegro coalition scored an absolute victory in October 20's parliamentary elections, the rival pro-Yugoslavia coalition Together for Changes announced plans to boycott the presidential ballot.

Montenegrin law stipulates that more than half of registered voters need to cast their ballots in the first round of the elections for them to be valid.

Analysts also believe Djukanovic's decision is linked to a resurgence of claims about his alleged involvement in a cigarette smuggling racket during the Nineties.

The European Community filed a lawsuit at the United States District Court for the East District of New York on October 31 against American tobacco company RJ Reynolds. The firm is accused of involvement in money laundering and cigarette smuggling.

The legal document implicates the Montenegrin leader in the illegal dealings, which are alleged to have lost the EU billions of euros in taxes.

The indictment, seen by IWPR, alleges that "huge amounts of money" were paid to public officials in Montenegro to secure the safe passage of cigarettes and illicit funds through the Balkans.

"These officials included Milo Djukanovic, now president of Montenegro; the now-deceased former head of the Montenegrin foreign investment agency Milutin Lalic, and others," the indictment reads.

A DPS source, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that the party's leadership believes that some European diplomats might use the smuggling allegations to discredit Djukanovic if he continues to press for independence, in defiance of the Belgrade Agreement he signed earlier this year.

Reports say the 149-page indictment lists claims of Reynolds' business dealings, allegedly in cooperation with the Italian mafia and Russian organised crime gangs, and includes claims of illicit payments to high-ranking Montenegrin officials.

The Italian connection has led to intense interest in Italy, with the media and judiciary there both paying close attention to events. Prosecutors in Bari are said to be investigating the Montenegrin president's alleged links to organised crime.

"It would come as no surprise if the Italian courts issued an indictment against Djukanovic before the presidential elections, accusing him of associating with the mafia in the cigarette smuggling business," claimed IWPR's source.

As prime minister - a post he has held twice before - Djukanovic has secured his leadership for another four years and will inherit far more authority and power than he presently enjoys.

But some observers suggest that the move could strengthen the hand of his political rivals. Rade Bojovic, an analyst with the Podgorica Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, told IWPR, "By moving to the prime ministerial post and deciding against running for president, Djukanovic has made a risky move.

"Before, none of the opposition leaders stood a chance of defeating Djukanovic, but now they have a opportunity as the DPS cannot possibly come up with as powerful a candidate as the current president," he said.

Question marks remain over the identity of the ruling coalition's preferred candidate. Some analysts believe it could be the influential DPS deputy leader Svetozar Marovic, while others have named prominent scientist Ljubisa Stankovic, a university professor who is not involved with Djukanovic's party.

But whoever triumphs in the December elections may find their activities curtailed by order of the new prime minister.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is an IWPR contributor and the executive director of Monitor magazine in Podgorica.

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