- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Montenegro's pro-Western leadership, rejecting a last-minute plea from the United States, said yesterday it will boycott elections next month that could hand Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic up to eight more years in power.
A day after meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in Rome, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told a delegation representing 15 Serbian opposition parties that his followers would not take part in the presidential, parliamentary, and local balloting set for Sept. 24.
"We told our Serb colleagues our principled stand not to take part in the elections," Miodrag Vukovic, a top adviser to Mr. Djukanovic, told reporters yesterday in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, calling the revised election process pushed through by Mr. Milosevic last month "illegitimate."
Montenegrin officials said the boycott reflected their unhappiness with the constitutional changes as well as deep doubts that Mr. Milosevic would ever allow free and fair elections.
The decision was a setback for U.S. officials who contend that Yugoslavia's chronically divided opposition must unite to have any hopes of ousting Mr. Milosevic after a decade of power in Belgrade.
Mrs. Albright on Tuesday, while condemning the Milosevic-backed constitutional changes, said, "It's very important that we do everything we can to strengthen and unify the opposition."
State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said yesterday that the U.S. government had no immediate reaction to Mr. Djukanovic's decision, again urging the "united participation of the Serb opposition" to block Mr. Milosevic.
The elections will be Yugoslavia's first since last year's disastrous war with NATO over Kosovo.
Mr. Milosevic, who was supposed to step down in July when his term expired, pushed through changes that would allow him to serve two more four-year terms. Exploiting the divisions within the opposition, the winner under the new system will be the candidate who gets the most votes regardless of turnout.
In addition, the new system greatly dilutes the representation of Montenegro, the junior partner with Serbia in the Yugoslav Federation, in the new parliament.
A Montenegrin boycott would be especially devastating for the opposition in those parliamentary races, essentially handing the republic's 50 seats in the new 178-seat federal legislature to Mr. Milosevic's party.
"We will not put up with the constitutional violence that Milosevic is trying to use against Montenegro," Mr. Djukanovic told reporters in Rome Tuesday.
Montenegro under the pro-Western government in power in Podgorica since 1998 has carved out a large degree of autonomy from Belgrade, and many in Mr. Djukanovic's government fear Mr. Milosevic is trying to provoke a crisis that will justify a military crackdown in the republic.
Despite reaffirming the electoral boycott, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said the republic's leadership remained "willing to provide all logistic support to democratic forces in Serbia in order to oust the regime in Belgrade."
Daniel Serwer heads the Balkans Initiative at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace. He said the Montenegrin boycott is understandable but may play right into Mr. Milosevic's hands.
"It's very hard to expect people who feel the country they lived in has already dissolved to participate in elections they think are fraudulent," he said.
"On the other hand, if there's the slightest chance that voting will make a difference in the outcome, that might make some people change their minds," Mr. Serwer added.
The analyst said the key in the next few weeks will be whether the Serbian opposition parties can unite around a single, credible candidate to oppose Mr. Milosevic which could cause Montenegro's leaders to rethink their boycott.
But Vuk Draskovic, whose Serbian Renewal Party is the largest of the country's opposition factions, has vowed to boycott the elections as well. The Serbian Renewal Party was not represented in the delegation that met with Mr. Djukanovic yesterday.

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