BHHRG

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The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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The Referendum in Montenegro and its Aftermath
HITS: 2579 | 12-01-2007, 16:56 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

The BHHRG observers visited 7 polling stations in Virpazar, Bar, Sveti Stefan and Kotor. The atmosphere between the evenly-balanced memberships of the individual election commissions was relaxed. Everywhere three pro- and three anti-independence commissioners were present. Queues were witnessed early in the day but by late afternoon the flow of voters had become a trickle. Although the members of the electoral commissions expressed no doubts about the proper conduct of the poll in their own stations, unionist members made complaints about the one-sided nature of the referendum campaign and the local media coverage of it.
Shortly after voting ended at 21.00 exit polls were read out on TVCG giving victory to the ‘yes’ campaign. Leaving aside the fact that BHHRG had seen no evidence of any exit polls during 21st May, it seemed out-of-order for the Montenegrin public to receive the projected results from two NGOs – Cesid and CTD rather than from the Republican Referendum Commission. Appropriately, a list of their foreign ‘donors’ appeared on a screen behind the presenters. Immediately, the ‘Yes’ campaign started to celebrate its anticipated victory. In fact, the Cesid and CTD results exaggerated the margin of victory for “Yes” which was very narrowly over the 55% threshold set by the EU and therefore given the doubts about the register’s accuracy among other dubious aspects of the poll’s conduct the real result probably fell within what pollsters call “the margin of error” to put it mildly.

Results

Turnout: 86.5%
55.5% voted in favour of independence (230,661) 44.5% (185,002) voted for preservation of the joint state.
3,577 ballots ruled invalid.

Pro-independentists won in 12 municipalities and the highest ‘Yes’ votes were in towns dominated by ethnic minorities, i.e. Rozaje, close to the border with Kosovo with 91.3% “Yes” and Ulcinj, on the Albanian border, with a “Yes” vote of 88.5%. There were 4,500 more votes for independence than expected in the coastal town of Herzeg Novi and Cetinje voted 86.4% for independence, as expected. The result was more evenly balanced in the capital, Podgorica – 53.8% “Yes”.[1]

Aftermath

Predrag Bulatovic contested the exit polls in a brief referendum eve press conference and his pro-union bloc raised initial complaints about the official results. However he later said that the process was “completely fair and without irregularities”.[2] The pro-union camp contested the results mainly on the grounds of abuse of the voter registration process. They lodged 241 complaints from 181 polling stations alleging that 201 people were registered twice and 3000 people voted whose primary residence was in Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia.[3] In Serbia, the Minister of Education Slobodan Vuksanovic, sent information to the RRC in Podgorica alleging that 2,671 people had joint Serbian and Montenegrin IDs.
However, Predrag Popovic, speaking on behalf of the pro-union bloc, demanded that the EU investigate these and other complaints rather than the Montenegrin Constitutional Court[4] which was somewhat bizarre as Miroslav Lajčak had already scolded the rejectionists for being “anti-European”. Solana himself had offered congratulations on the result and international observer groups, including the OSCE, pronounced the conduct of the referendum as satisfactory even before the RRC ruled on the complaints!
The pro-union bloc had little chance of success as the Chairman of the Republican Referendum Commission , Frantisek Lipka, claimed that “the commission has no jurisdiction to solve problems in connection with the Register of Voters[5] …For this reason the commission decided to reject all complaints in connection with the Register..”[6] The text of the law provides no clue as to how Lipka reached this conclusion but a referendum law or any other regulations governing the conduct of an election that bypasses the issue of accuracy of the voter registers is surely not worth the paper it is written on. It meant that the pro-unionists list of violations was quickly disposed of and all complaints dismissed by the deadline, Sunday 28th May. There were no appeals to the local Montenegrin courts perhaps another indication of such people’s trust in their independent institutions.
Ultimately, the referendum was a hollow affair as Montenegro has operated as a de facto independent state for nearly ten years. This did not alter the fact that nearly half the population didn’t want to go the extra mile so, the results were very close. The ‘yes’ vote managed to squeak to victory thus giving the ‘no’ voters a sense of not being completely marginalised. The results had the air of “something prepared beforehand” as television cooks say: rumours that the EU would refuse to approve a ‘grey zone’ meant that the pro-independence bloc only needed a small margin of success which they got with just 2009 votes above the 55% threshold. Even the EU’s insistence on a unprecedented “Yes” vote of 55% plus implied an unspoken assumption that any regime worth its salt in Podgorica could guarantee a bare absolute majority.
Although BHHRG saw no evidence of fraud in polling stations visited on 21st May, it is not very difficult to come up with 2000 extra votes between the local polling stations and the final tabulation There were solid reasons for querying the size of the electorate and the authorities approach to voter registration was less than opaque. While Montenegrins in Serbia were unable to vote – unless they returned home to do so – hundreds of ex-pats returned to cast their ballots. According to The Times “many from as far away as New York and Chicago have been given free tickets, paid for by unnamed benefactors”.[7] In fact, Montenegrin Airlines cut the number of their flights to Podgorica from Belgrade - 34 were cancelled between 19th and 22nd May and put on 200 special flights to bring such people in from abroad. In other words a state agency funnelled pro-independence voters into the country while blocking the return of pro-union voters from Serbia.
Mr. Djukanovic is preparing for Montenegro to take its seat in the UN and join other international organizations like the OSCE and WTO. He has also said that “he will seek NATO membership “immediately” upon independence …and is prepared to offer Adriatic ports in exchange”.[8] And “the navy of Serbia-Montenegro has started selling real estate and equipment as part of reforms to prepare for NATO’s Partnership for Peace program”.[9] At a meeting in Brussels the enlargement commissioner, Ollie Rehn, on 29th May, promised Montenegro Stabilization and Association Agreement status with the EU by the year’s end – full membership was ruled out for the moment.[10] Apart from easing travel restrictions for Montenegrins to visit European countries it is difficult to see what difference this arrangement will make as the EU already spends large sums of money propping up the government while also running numerous infrastructure projects in the country – BHHRG saw more evidence of the EU’s activities in Montenegro than anywhere else in the Balkans, including Croatia, deemed to be a candidate for EU membership.
However, despite his triumph, the prime minister’s days may be numbered. Allegations of corruption and a failure to fully “reform” the economy already mar his reputation as ‘father of the nation’. In parliamentary elections scheduled for Autumn 2006 he could cease to be a potent force in the country. Apart from anything else, observers point to the need for change – Djukanovic is the longest serving European leader having been in power uninterruptedly since 1990. A prototype of the US’s favourite kind of reformer, Nebojsa Medojevic, is waiting in the wings to take over.


[1] Nela Lazarevic “After the Referendum: Calm in "Serbia on the Sea" Transitions online 25th May 2006,
[2] ibid.,
[3] “Montenegrin unionists lodge complaints about referendum irregularities” Radio Montenegro, 25th May 2006,
www.bbcmonitoringonline.com,
[4] ibid.,
[5] For the law on the referendum, see,
http://www.infoizbor.org/index.php?base=data/english&sm5=on A reading of the text of the law provides no clue as to how Lipka reached this conclusion;
[6] “Montenegro:Referendum commission rejects another 82 complaints” Radio Montenegro, 26th May, 2006,
www.bbcmonitoringonline.com,
[7] Giles Whittell “Freebies for the exiles heading home for freedom” The Times 20th May, 2006,
[8] Eric Jansson, FT, ibid.,
[9] John Phillips “Key Base Likely for Sale to U.S., Russia” The Washington Times, 20th May, 2006,
[10] “EU gives Montenegro hope of deal”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/europe/5027202.stm.

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