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  Crucial poll looms for Montenegrin government and opposition

On 11 June 2000, local elections are to be held in two key municipalities in Montenegro, Serbia’s junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation. The significance of these elections is much wider than the simple question of who governs the two local authorities. The poll is the first opportunity Montenegrin voters have had to register their political preferences since the election, two years ago, of Milo Djukanovic’s reform-minded government and the subsequent rift in relations between Montenegro and Serbia.

A new briefing paper released today by the International Crisis Group (ICG), entitled Montenegro’s Local Elections: Testing the National Temperature, provides an analysis of the parties and coalitions fighting the elections in the politically important municipalities of Podgorica and Herzeg-Novi, and examines the issues that divide them.

The stakes are high for all three of the main party blocs that dominate Montenegrin politics:

- “For a Better Life” – the ruling coalition, led by pro-western President Milo Djukanovic – needs to do at least as well as it did in 1998, if it is to successfully rebuff the opposition’s claims that voters reject the government’s handling of relations with Serbia and the West and its economic reform policies;

- The nationalist pro-Yugoslavia bloc – comprising the Socialist People’s Party (SNP) and a group of small local nationalist parties in alliance with the Yugoslav United Left of Mirka Markovic, wife of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and the Serb Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj – need a strong showing to give credence to its claim that opinion polls consistently underestimate its support and build momentum ahead of fresh republic-wide elections.

- The pro-independence bloc – led by the Montenegrin Liberal Alliance – wants to use the elections to prove that it is a serious force in Montenegrin politics. The cause of Montenegrin independence, while not a main issue of the campaign, will inevitably receive a boost if the Liberals are seen to do well.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, the implications for Montenegro’s immediate future, including its relations with Serbia, are likely to be significant. It is not just Montenegrins and Serbians who will be watching closely the polls on 11 June.

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