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Montenegro Struggling to Form Government

The independence issue is at the heart of Podgorica's inability to form a workable government
By Zoran Radulovic

The Montenegrin government hasn't even been formed, yet critics are already talking of its demise.


Talks on creating a new administration have been underway since the April 22 elections, won by President Milo Djukanovic's pro-independence block - consisting of the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and its coalition partner the Social Democratic Party, SDP.


However, the slim margin of this victory has meant that the pro-independence coalition had to rely on the questionable support of the Liberal Party, LS.


While the DPS and SDP share similar platforms, it is the role of the LS which is calling the new government's future into question. While Djukanovic is stalling moves towards independence, the Liberals want to kick-start the process immediately.


Djukanovic had no choice but to take LS opinion on board as their six seats proved crucial in obtaining a majority in the 77-seat house.


Rather than hold ministerial positions, the Liberals have opted to use their controlling hand to their political advantage.


On the first day of newly elected parliament, the Liberals demanded that longstanding speaker and DPS official Svetozar Marovic stand down in favour of their nominee Vesna Perovic. DPS felt they had no choice in the matter - concerned that LS would withdraw their crucial support.


Well aware of their leverage, they have been making demands which are thought to be compromising the president who, though pro-independence, is eager to seek a consensus in the country as to how to secede from the Yugoslav federation.


Consensus of opinion is of no importance to the Liberals. During discussions over the government's programme for their forthcoming term in office, they forced DPS vice president and prime-minister-in-waiting Filip Vujanovic to include an agreement on the organisation of a referendum on the independence issue.


Meanwhile, Vujanovic announced that one of the first tasks of the new government would be to start negotiations with Serbia over the future relationship of the two constituent parts of the Yugoslav federation.


The Liberals believe Vujanovic and Djukanovic have already entered into secret talks with Belgrade. They are concerned that talks like these will slow up any moves towards secession.


The LS have interpreted the announcement of negotiations with Serbia as a return to the situation two years ago when there was a discussion about redefining the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro rather than an outright debate on independence.


The LS are also adamantly opposed to the government's decision to negotiate with the Montenegrin opposition 'Together for Yugoslavia'. "The government should have nothing to do with the opposition," said former LS leader Slavko Perovic.


But Djukanovic finds himself between a rock and a hard place as the opposition have threatened to boycott any referendum on independence which would stymie the president's efforts to reconcile supporters and critics of independence.


The opposition believes that the new programme outlined by Vujanovic goes a long way to sidelining those Montenegrins who wish to remain within the federation.


One of those disenchanted is president of the People's Party Dragan Soc who left the DPS and SDP coalition last December, in protest over his colleagues' reluctance to start serious dialogue with Serbia on the independence issue.


Soc says that very little leeway had been left for discussions as his coalition partners wanted to base any discussions with the recognition of Serbia and Montenegro as two sovereign states.


The opposition believes it is imperative that their voice is heard in any independence negotiations. Naturally, the Liberals would refuse to countenance such a move while they were still allied to the government.


The independence issue is already causing Montenegro financial hurt as Western aid agencies opposed to the country's pro-independence stance have postponed desperately needed funds.


Most of an 89 million US dollar package granted by US Congress has been held back as international pressure attempts to persuade the country to remain within the Yugoslav federation. This is exacerbating social problems in the less developed parts of the republic, and heightening political tensions in Podgorica.


Zoran Radulovic is a journalist with Podgorica weekly Monitor