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June 17, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 443

Eight Votes Short of a Constitutional Change

by Nenad Lj. Stefanovic

Most of the foreign correspondents reporting on last week's local elections in Podgorica and Herceg Novi (their number was exceptionally high for local elections in such a small state), kept repeating the same story these last couple of days, saying that Montenegro has entered a stalemate after these elections, or that pro-western Djukanovic and pro-Milosevic Bulatovic have finished their game with a "draw". It seems as though only Italy's daily Republica correspondent tried to break out of this stereotype, concluding (the same thing, only nicely put) that in Montenegro "Djukanovic won, but Milosevic didn't lose". And all know that those two things usually don't blend. Namely, in this mini referendum on a possible referendum, Djukanovic found out that he is still quite far away from a "secure referendum". On the other hand, Bulatovic was assured that his mentor from Belgrade is equally far away from the possibility of taking over the government in Montenegro.

Prior to these elections, both sides were announcing certain and convincing victories at the early elections in the two towns which cover a third of the electorate in this republic. However, behind these announcements stood diagonally different ambitions and, or so it appears, a lot more realistic calculations from those stated at the pre-election rallies. Milosevic's socialists demanded that Bulatovic's socialists remain standing on their feet and to prevent Djukanovic and his option from seriously "breaking away" and drawing closer towards a referendum on the future status of Montenegro. At the same time, immediately prior to the elections, a certain high Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) official claimed that for the ruling coalition it would suffice if they were to acquire merely one MP seat more than before in both cities in order to continue with their "step by step" government stabilization policies.

Therefore, since both sides lost and gained something in these elections, they must now quickly decide what to do next. For Milosevic, who didn't lose this time, time is quickly running out in this chess game and it definitely isn't in his interest to keep his figures stuck in a stalemate in Montenegro for too long. He is definitely impatiently awaiting to hear how official Podgorica will react at the moment when elections for the federal parliament are called, which are due this fall. Representatives of a part of the Serbian opposition who are preparing themselves for these elections will travel to Montenegro these days where, among other things, they will hold talks on this with people from the For a Better Life coalition, convinced that a certain joint Serbian-Montenegrin democratic election bloc could possibly be formed.

Even though it is ungrateful to give out forecasts further than the next day, there isn't much of a chance that official Podgorica whose new approach is "don't run too far ahead of Milosevic, yet don't allow him to get too far ahead with his projects and to continue to constantly dictate the tempo to all others" will agree to form some kind of joint election bloc with the Serbian opposition. Coalitions of those who are in power and those who never had any power (with the exception of occasional deals between a part of the Serbian opposition with Milosevic), usually aren't a model for successful political projects. At the same time, the government in Podgorica is doggedly repeating their stand that under these circumstances federal parliament elections make no sense. Since, even in case a certain newly formed Serbian-Montenegrin democratic bloc was to amass a convincing majority in the Citizens Council, the structure of the Council of Republics would remain unchanged, meaning that it would be capable of blocking the parliament from functioning.

Due to all this it is to be expected that after federal elections are called the government in Montenegro will try to avoid an open conflict with Milosevic and will allow the elections to be normally held, but will at the same time launch a sturdy boycott campaign with practically all the opposition parties. Naturally, convinced that Slobodan Milosevic via Bulatovic will not be able to even closely provide the participation of half of the electoral body at these elections which is a precondition for their validity. Prior to those elections, and in the midst of the boycott, Slobodan Milosevic could start his Montenegrin tour, he could visit the army, certain tribal national turn-outs and he could tune all political chords to the breaking point.

Directly depending on the outcome of this new assessment of power which awaits us at the beginning of fall depends the outcome of that "stalemate". Up to now, for example, only Bulatovic's side kept mentioning early republic elections in Montenegro. Prior to last week's local elections in Montenegro, stories were heard from circles close to Djukanovic how early republic elections agreed with this side as well since they are short of eight seats in parliament in order to be able to change the constitution of Montenegro. Those changes would strengthen the statehood and sovereignty of that republic, which is definitely a lot less painful than a referendum.

However, such a project would be directly connected with the "Djukanovic won, Milosevic lost" newspaper captions. Captions such as - "Djukanovic won but Milosevic hasn't lost " suggest a long and difficult battle for positions. For a more peaceful outcome of this current crisis (which in all truth is nowhere in sight), maybe it's better that way. Milosevic has proven on a number of occasions that he is most dangerous when he loses and when he tries to pass off an all too apparent defeat as a magnificent victory.

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