Montenegro's 'Low Key' Election

Montenegro is eerily calm on the eve of one of the most important elections in its history.

Montenegro's 'Low Key' Election

Montenegro is eerily calm on the eve of one of the most important elections in its history.

Walk down any street in Montenegro and you'd hardly be aware that the country was days away from historic parliamentary elections. There's the occasional campaign poster, the odd car decked with party symbols and a few bombastic headlines.

Despite the fact that the results of the election on April 22 will effectively decide the fate of the country there seems a noticeable lack of excitement.

The reason for this blasé attitude is that people have already made their minds up which way they're going to vote - as the key issue independence from Yugoslavia - is one they've been debating for years now.

"The election campaign for these elections began three years ago," said one prominent lawyer in the capital, Podgorica. "Since then, every day we have been hearing arguments for and against Montenegrin independence.

"We made up our minds a long time ago. The only thing that's left for us to do is vote."

Opinion polls bear him out on this. Just five per cent of the electorate have yet to decide who to back.

Should the pro-independence lobby led by President Milo Djukanovic win the ballot, plans will be set in motion for a referendum on independence as early as the beginning of the summer.

But the outcome of the upcoming ballot is far from clear and analysts in Podgorica are hard at work trying to predict results.

Polls indicate support for Djukanovic's pro-independence bloc has grown from around 40 to 53 per cent, while the anti-secession, The Together for Yugoslavia bloc, is trailing behind with about 30 to 35 per cent.

In the event of the federation being retained, the pro-independence campaign envisages a future under the thumb of Serbia with all decisions made in Belgrade.

Their campaign has leant heavily on the Serbian bogeyman waiting in the shadows to counter any pro-independence moves. Earlier this week, Djukanovic warned that federalists would provoke Serbian military intervention in Montenegro.

Whether this is based on any evidence or merely rabble-rousing rhetoric is so far uncertain. But the message is clear.

"Montenegrin independence will mark the end of the Greater Serbian project," said the leaders of the pro-independence coalition. "The sowers of fear with their chauvinist attitudes will become a part of the past."

Those who want to preserve the union point to centuries-long fraternal links with the Serbs, as well as the rather more concrete consideration of Montenegro's ability to survive economically if divorced from its larger partner.

The federalists have also sought to exploit fears that the Montenegrin nation may be become vulnerable following independence.

For instance, they've expressed concerns for the fate of Montenegrins living in an independent Serbia and have raked up fears that a sovereign Montenegro would be threatened by ethnic Albanians and Muslims.

While the two factions fight it out, it's become increasingly clear in recent weeks the minority vote could well decide the outcome of the elections.

People's Party president Dragan Soc has gone so far as to say that

minority groups - which include Albanians, Muslims and Croats - have no right to decide on the status of Montenegro. Soc, until recently a justice minister, has said that the vote ought to be left to the Orthodox majority.

If that weren't enough, the Serbian People's Party president Bozidar Bojovic said that any Muslims voting for the pro-independence parties would be the "exclusive culprits" of Yugoslavia's disintegration.

As things stand at the moment, the secessionist bloc is likely to triumph in the polls. However, victory is unlikely to be sufficiently convincing for it to push for a referendum alone.

But with a post-electoral coalition with the Liberal Alliance, the pro-independence movement could attain a two-thirds majority threshold necessary to hold the plebiscite.

Zoran Radulovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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