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Southeast European Times: Montenegro readies for May referendum

Published date: 03.04.2006 14:11 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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As Montenegro gears up for a referendum that will decide whether it becomes independent or remains part of a state union with Serbia, considerable suspense surrounds the outcome. Although polls show supporters of independence outnumber opponents, it remains to be seen if the "yes" vote will pass the required threshold.

The vote, to be held on 21 May, will put before voters a single question: "Do you want Montenegro to be an independent state with full international recognition?" For independence to succeed, the number of "yes" votes must exceed 55 per cent, and turnout must be over 50 per cent of Montenegro's registered voters.

The referendum terms, adopted by parliament on 1 March, were hashed out in negotiations with the EU, which is anxious to make sure the results are decisive and to forestall any potential instability. The conditions for indepedence are considerably tighter than those originally sought by Montenegro's pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

Djukanovic had sharply criticised the EU formula as "undemocratic" and said that a "yes" vote by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent turnout should suffice to make the outcome referendum valid. Montenegro has 466,079 eligible voters out of a total population of 600,000.

Failure to accept the EU proposal, however, would have opened the door to a rejection by Brussels of the outcome and controversy over its legitimacy.

A recent report by Transitions Online concluded that, while the majority of Montenegrins favour breaking from the state union, the government faces an uphill battle.

"Even without the EU formula, independence would need more votes than the cause, and the parties committed to it, have ever won (around 38,000 more, to be precise). In addition to securing a clear majority in favour of independence, the government will also need to persuade enough voters to turn out. And the EU has made it clear that any vote boycotted by the opposition would not be valid," the report said.

A poll in January found that 41.4 per cent of Montenegrins support independence, while 32.3 per cent oppose it and 25 per cent are undecided.

Neighbouring countries have said they would respect any outcome that is democratic and fair, and some have already indicated they would back an independent Montenegro.

Addressing the Crans Montana forum in February, Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said he would fully support Montenegrin statehood, if this means a faster path towards regional stability.

Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, meanwhile, said Macedonia would support whatever citizens of Montenegro decide, as long as it is achieved in a democratic manner and has a stabilising effect on the region as a whole. The whole of the Western Balkans, including Montenegro, is at a historical turning point in terms of its European perspective, he added.