AIM: start

TUE, 20 NOV 2001 21:24:00 GMT

The OSCE & Montenegro's Politicians

What is a Majority?

As has become customary for them, Montenegrin politicians had different interpretations of the OSCE recommendations for its planned independence referendum.

AIM Podgorica, November 10, 2001

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said at the beginning of November that a referendum bill drafted by Montenegro's pro-independence parties (Liberal Alliance of Montenegro and Social Democratic Party) was a step back compared to existing legislation.

The strongest pro-independence party, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, showed restraint towards the bill because the Liberals and Social Democrats did not observe the OSCE's earlier recommendation urging an over 50% turnout for a successful referendum. The opposition Together for Yugoslavia coalition, of course, boycotted the preparation of the bill and gloated over the OSCE's negative reaction, although some comments from the OSCE paper were not exactly uncritical of the pro-Yugoslav alliance.

"The new referendum bill does not set any conditions for minimum voter turnout, nor does it define any specific majority," says Gerard Studman, an ambassador from the OSCE Human Rights and Democracy Office in Warsaw.

According to Studman, the issue of "the majority that is needed to make a referendum decision is of crucial importance for confidence in the process and for acceptance of its results, both at home and abroad."

The OSCE recommendations that Montenegro's status ought to be determined by a so-called qualified majority has resulted in heated controversy and all sorts of interpretation from local politicians. Pro-Yugoslav parties immediately came forth with calculations showing that this majority is 223,000 votes, which is more than one-half of the electorate. The term, however, was defined nowhere in the OSCE document, which gives only several examples.

"We didn't say what a qualified majority is because there are no international standards in regard to the matter. It is up to Montenegrin political parties to find a formula acceptable to all sides through negotiations," the OSCE representative told AIM.

The issue of just how many votes are needed for independence has led to a new round of bickering among Montenegro political groups. According to the latest public opinion polls, Montenegro is split over its future status. Some 55 percent of the population supports the idea of independence, but 40 percent are in favor of preserving the Yugoslav federation. This is why pro-Yugoslav parties are waging a political battle, believing the supporters of a sovereign Montenegro could lose if a "qualified majority" is defined as one-half of the electorate. They are counting on voter abstinence, which was 20 percent in the last election.

The OSCE document lists the respective views of the embattled political options in Montenegro. First it quotes what the Together for Yugoslavia coalition requires -- that at least 50 percent of all registered voters support one of the options. The OSCE quoted the example of Denmark where a qualified majority was 45 percent of all eligible voters. The threshold was later reduced to 40 percent of all voters. In the example of Montenegro the situation would be the following: if the electorate numbers 447,000 voters, 45 percent is 201,150; if 40 percent is agreed as a qualified majority, 178,800 votes would suffice for Montenegro to become independent. This figure is more understandable when compared to the latest elections: in April, the pro-independence parties obtained the votes of 55 percent of those who voted, that is, over 195,000 votes.

It is interesting to note that the OSCE believes a qualified majority would not be needed if two or more questions were offered in the referendum, because it would then be difficult for one option to obtain a "strong majority." In this event, "a simple majority would be politically acceptable for all sides," said the OSCE recommendations.

The idea of two referendum questions is receiving growing support from the Democratic Party of Socialists. Oddly, the Together for Yugoslavia coalition has rejected this idea, although its strongest party, Predrag Bulatovic's Socialist People's Party, was once strongly in favor of it. The openly pro-independence parties, the Liberal Alliance and the Social Democratic Party, are in favor of a single question.

The OSCE recommended that only Montenegrins residing in Montenegro, and not all citizens, be allowed to vote in the referendum. The pro-Yugoslav parties, on the other hand, would like all citizens to have the right to vote, in hopes that Montenegrins residing is Serbia would vote in favor of preserving Yugoslavia.

One of the basic principles endorsed by the OSCE in its report on the referendum bill is reaching a consensus before the referendum is called. And this is the goal that the feuding Montenegrin parties are the least likely to achieve.

All the disputed issues (the necessary turnout for validity, the number of questions, and the wording of these questions), according to the OSCE, should be settled through negotiations. The OSCE report, well-balanced and based on proper expertise as it is, could serve as a good foundation for dialog.

Instead of this, however, the OSCE paper is being used as a political weapon, and is interpreted at will. "We will accept the decision of a democratic majority, which has to be such that no one can question it, but not a 45-percent majority, which will only postpone a solution to the issue for another ten years," said Dragan Soc, president of the People's Party.

If a "democratic majority" is needed to ensure Montenegro's independence, is the same kind of majority needed to return Montenegro into Yugoslavia?

"The pro-independence bloc should pose that question to opponents of Montenegro's independence. And it should insist on the principle of equality or equal opportunity. In addition to opponents of independence in Montenegro and Belgrade, international community representatives should also be reminded of that," says Milan Popovic, an independent analyst and a professor at the Podgorica School of Law.

Popovic underlines that although it has international legitimacy, Yugoslavia lacks internal legitimacy, which it lost during the Milosevic era, after the constitutional amendments of 2000, which Montenegro opposed. The lack of internal legitimacy, says Popovic, enables the pro-sovereignty bloc to rightfully invoke the principle of equality.

"If they have any self-respect, the supporters of independence should tell the unitarians -- we offer you an agreement based on the principle of equality. In other words, we are ready to accept the law, procedure, conditions, the majority you require for the referendum on independence if you are ready to verify that your common state adheres to the same laws, procedure, conditions, and majority," explains Popovic.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the pro-Yugoslav parties will accept the equality principle. Even if the pro-independence parties abandon the bill proposed by the Liberals and Social Democrats which is very likely to happen after the OSCE's report, the Together for Yugoslavia coalition might continue to threaten with a boycott. Instead of a referendum, these parties have begun to mention elections, as a first step in resolving the crisis Montenegro.

Milka Tadic-Mijovic