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