The Independence referendum in Montenegro will be held 21st May 2006. The citizens of Montenegro will vote on the following question, “Do you agree that Republic of Montenegro becomes an independent state with a full international legal subjectivity”?
For the outcome of the referendum to have legal validity more than 50% of the voters need to vote at the referendum. Moreover, the EU imposed the following condition on the Montenegrin political elite, only if more than 55% of those who voted vote YES in the referendum will Montenegro have the right to exercise its right to self-determination. It remains ambiguous as to whether there is a requirement that the Montenegrin Parliament needs to confirm the referendum outcome by a 2/3 majority vote?
Pro-independence parties were not happy by the EU imposed condition of 55%, still they accepted to play by these rules. They are pointing out that it is not acceptable that 54.9% majority is denied the right to acquire independence. This, however, seems somewhat of a demagogical argument. Montenegrin society is split on this issue and it would not be prudent to proceed with independence with a simple majority only, as a politicians from the region voted, “we are not voting here to change municipal boundaries in somewhere in Montenegro we are voting on the very future of the state and it is for this reason that we need a clear majority”. Arguing that 55% requirement does not correspond to the best practices in the democratic world is also weak because this condition is comparable to other countries in Europe. Furthermore, Serbia and Montenegro is among the very few countries in the world (Austria) that allows secession so it is logical that the condition is harsher than in other places where this eventuality is not formally proscribed. The proof that this decision of the EU was good is the fact that the opposition is also included in the referendum process and it is not calling for boycott as originally planned.
How will the Montenegrins vote? It is very difficult to predict. At this point it seems most likely (if something revolutionary does not occur) that the overall majority for independence will fall short of 55% majority. In this case we are likely to face a political stalemate in this country, one that would lead towards parliamentary elections due to be held in autumn. Pro-Independence Montenegrin parties are already announcing that they will cause political crisis that would lead to the fall of the Federal government if they lose at the referendum. It is also very likely that Djukanovic will suffer the first electoral defeat in autumn, one that would force him to leave power for the first time, since 1980s. In such a situation both sides are going to be forced to renegotiate the currently dysfunctional Union agreement, independence will most probably not be completely off the political agenda but it is likely that it will, for the first time in a decade, leave space for other, arguably more important, political, social and economic issues.