Monday, May 22, 2006

BALKANS: MONTENEGRO OPTS FOR INDEPENDENCE IN HISTORIC VOTE

Podgorica, May 22 (AKI) - Montenegrins and Serbs woke up in two different states on Monday, after tiny Montenegro voted for independence in a record turnout of 86.3 per cent at a referendum on Sunday, a referendum marking the end of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro was the only republic that remained in a state union with Serbia after the break up of former Yugoslav federation in 1991, but as one analyst put it “the unhappy marriage” definitely ended on Sunday.

The verdict was pronounced by president of the state referendum commission, Czech diplomat Frantisek Lipka who announced preliminary official results Monday morning. Lipka said that based on still incomplete results, 55.4 per cent of valid ballots were cast for independence, 44.6 per cent for the state union, with 0.13 per cent invalid ballots.

Lipka pointed out that the results from 45 polling stations, comprising some 25.000 voters were still to be counted. He promised to give the final results at another press conference Monday afternoon.

Lipka said he was encouraged by the fact that there have been no complaints of irregularities and that low percentage of invalid ballots showed that Montenegrin voters were quite aware what they were voting for.

Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who spearheaded the independence drive, proclaimed a victory at two o’clock in the morning, saying that 55.5 per cent of Montenegro’s 485.000 voters opted for independence.

"Montenegro statehood has been renewed tonight," Djukanovic told cheering crowd of his supporters.

In a long night, full of controversy and conflicting reports, opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic, whose bloc advocated continuation of the state union with Serbia, disputed the results, saying that according to his incomplete information, the independists were leading with 54 per cent, but suggested that Lipka’s official results should be awaited before drawing any conclusions.

The European Union which has set the terms and supervised the referendum ruled that 55 per cent of the turnout voters should opt for independence for referendum to be valid.


In view of Lipka’s results, the pro-independence bloc exceeded the 55 per cent target by les than 2,000 votes, and the remaining ballots could theoretically offset their victory. But it would largely depend on the area from which these ballots were expected.

Generally, ethnic Albanians and Muslims voted for independence and if the ballots are missing from these areas Djukanovic’s victory would be unchallenged.


On the other hand, if the ballots are missing from rural areas in northern Montenegro, the stronghold of the “unionists”, the majority of 55 per cent might be in question. In any case, the independists have scored a clear victory, with some 40.000 margin in their favor.


"I want to congratulate, first of all, the citizens of Montenegro on their state, because this is the most important day in a century long history of Montenegro," said Djukanovic. But he also congratulated Serbia, which has favored the state union, but indirectly became independent due to Montenegro vote.

He also thanked those who voted against independence, "but contributed by their participation at the referendum to its success according to the highest European standards. In doing so, Montenegro has presented itself as a democratically mature society," said Djukanovic.

“We have a state, and I’m sure that we shall never allow that this state of ours be brought into question,” Djukanovic concluded. (Vpr)



(Vpr/Aki)

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