Montenegro's Uneasy Bedfellows

A highly unstable government could result from a controversial partnership contesting Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Montenegro's Uneasy Bedfellows

A highly unstable government could result from a controversial partnership contesting Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Two political groups with sharply opposing policies have linked up to unseat President Milo Djukanovic in Montenegro's parliamentary election on October 20. Polls show they could win, thereby setting the stage for a phase of wildly unstable government.

A determination to end Djukanovic's 12-year rule is about the only objective shared by the two groups. One of them, the Together for Change coalition, is pro-Yugoslav and pro-Milosevic. The other, the Liberal Alliance, LS, wants to have nothing more to do with the old Yugoslavia.

For years, Djukanovic campaigned for a split with Serbia. But on March 14, he yielded to strong pressure from the European Union and agreed to a loose partnership between Serbia and Montenegro, the only remaining parts of the Yugoslav federation. This enraged many of Djukanovic's supporters, including the LS, which removed itself from the president's team.

Now Djukanovic goes into the election at the head of a coalition calling itself the Democratic List for a European Montenegro. It comprises his Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, led by Ranko Krivokapic.

Recent opinion polls put both these coalitions virtually neck-and-neck, with Djukanovic's alliance marginally behind its rival.

Apart from their eagerness to be rid of the president, fundamental differences between the LS and the pro-Belgraders remain stark. In addition to opposing attitudes towards Yugoslavia, the two groups disagree on freedom of the media and the whole legacy of the Balkan wars.

From the very beginning, Liberals were against the war in Bosnia, opposed to Montenegrins bombarding Dubrovnik in Croatia and consistently hostile to the regime of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. In the early Nineties, the Montenegrin establishment branded the LS traitors.

By contrast, many members of the pro-Yugoslav coalition remain staunch Serbian nationalists and resist any extradition of Yugoslav citizens to The Hague war crimes tribunal. They still regard indicted war crimes suspects like Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic as heroes.

One major problem will come with the framing of the proposed new association between Serbia and Montenegro. The Liberals want to make it as loose as possible. Together for Change favours a cast iron union.

After the Liberals defected earlier this year, Djukanovic was left with a minority government made up of the SDP and ethnic Albanian parties. It was because he lost a parliamentary vote of confidence that Djukanovic was forced to call the elections.

In the meantime, the Liberals and pro-Belgrade forces managed to force through amendments to electoral law and wrested control of state media from Djukanovic. They took over state-owned TV and radio and daily newspaper Pobijeda on September 28.

The new coalition chalked up successes in municipal elections during May. They won four districts from Djukanovic leaving them with control of 13 out of 21 municipalities.

An opinion poll conducted by the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, CEDEM, and the DAMAR polling agency indicated that Liberals lost one fifth of their supporters for defecting to former opponents. However, as in previous elections, the LS is bound to play an important role in forming a government.

One of the pro-Yugoslav coalition leaders, Bozidar Bojovic, said on October 13 that he was certain his bloc could form a stable government with the Liberals because the LS had accepted the proposed union with Serbia.

One of the LS leaders, Slavko Perovic, also confirmed that a post-election coalition with the pro-Belgrade group looks imminent.

"It seems to me that with this bloc we have already taken large steps that we could not have taken with Djukanovic," Perovic told an election rally. "The DPS is an essentially mafiocratic (mafia-led) organisation. It is not a political party and believes in smothering democracy rather than advancing it."

However, there have been advance signs the two partners will find it hard to get along. A few days after obtaining control of Pobjeda, a well-known member of the LS, Ratka Jovanovic, resigned from her post as deputy editor because she could not agree on professional standards with the editor-in-chief who had been appointed by Together for Change.

Podgorica analyst Miodrag Vlahovic told IWPR, "I think this political symbiosis could lead to chaos or at least a semi-chaotic state. The two groups are together for reasons which have nothing to do with political programmes."

The elections will provide the toughest test for Djukanovic since 1997 when he parted ways with Milosevic. They might also be a good test of how two very different political philosophies could be made to run in harness.

Nedjeljko Rudovic is a journalist with the Podgorica daily Vijesti

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