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Technical Assistance for the 31 May Elections and Legal Reform, April 1998-March 1999


Following the conduct of a voter awareness assessment in the Republic of Montenegro in the Fall of 1997, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) set about designing a technical assistance project in anticipation of parliamentary and municipal elections. In doing so, it sought to focus on the significant changes taking place with respect to legislation governing the election process, organization of election commission structures, and the application of modem technologies to certain facets of election administration including voter registration. The desire to stabilize the political situation in Montenegro following the split of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, the electoral upset of incumbent President Momir Bulatovic, and a turbulent transition of presidential power created considerable pressure to pursue immediate electoral reforms and conduct early elections. As a result, the timeframe to deliberate on, and to air public debate on various reform options, to educate voters and candidates about their rights and responsibilities, and to train administrators and technicians about changes in traditional election practice was severely limited. At the same time, the polarized environment in which elections were to take place increased the probability that any mistake during the course of the campaign or on election day could be promoted as "evidence" of malfeasance. Such an attempt could conceivably have been aimed at undermining public confidence in the process, nullifying the results, and/or creating the conditions for federal intervention.

In response to this situation, an IFES technical team was sent to the Republic of Montenegro in April 1998 under contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Delivery Order No. 805, to provide support in voter education and mobilization, non-partisan candidate information and outreach, poll worker training, legal and regulatory development and voter registration.' The successful conduct of elections in Montenegro encouraged the pursuit of furthering electoral reforms that would build on those begun prior to the elections. Toward the goal of strengthening legislative framework for campaigning and elections, IFES formed an Advisory Panel on Election Law Reform in a second phase of the delivery order to draft new model election legislation for consideration by the Montenegrin government. The proposed legislation included the Law on Election of Councilors and Representatives, the Law on the Register of Electors and the Law on the Financing of Political Parties. The panel's goals were publicly supported by President Milo Djukanovic.

As during the initial assessment, the IFES team found Montenegro to be an open, constructive, and responsive programming environment. Throughout the course of its project, the utmost access and support was provided to IFES by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government; election commissions; municipal authorities; political parties; NGOs, and media outlets. While such co-operation was nearly universal, special recognition is due to a number of people whose involvement contributed. significantly to the ultimate success of the IFES project, among them: former Deputy Prime Minister and current Legal Advisor to the President Miodrag Vukovic; Minister of Justice Dragan Soc, Foreign Minister Branco Perovic, Republican Election Commission Chairman Stevan Damjanovic; the core training group; local voter education and training assistants; Nikola Camaj, representing both of the Ministry of Information and the Albanian community; and Vuk Rajkovic of Radiorrelevision I Montenegro. Appreciation is also extended to USAID for making this project possible.

Svetozar Marovic, President of the Republican Assembly of Montenegro, may have most appropriately. captured the impact of US and Montenegrin co-operation during the election period by noting that IFES support helped provide the "conditions for a regular, dignified, and peaceful election."

The very success of the elections and the stability that has followed, combined with the escalation of fighting in Kosovo, however, may have diverted the West's attention from Montenegro's continuing needs in developing and consolidating democratic institutions and its potential to reform Yugoslavia from within. The ease with which some dismiss Montenegro as a an insignificant player might be explained by its size: only 670,000 people. Yet, this fails to take into account the relative impact it has had on the political status quo in Yugoslavia during the past year. The 200,000 or so Montenegrin voters who have cast their ballots in support of reform have placed more pressure on the Milosevic regime than Serbia's own Zajedno, student, or boycott movements. The degree to which Milosevic continues to either co-opt or marginalize the fractious opposition in Serbia suggests that Montenegro remains the best bet for reform at the federal level. This is true not only because of the constitutional framework which provides for equal status among the republics, but also because of the continued importance of Montenegro as both a democratic haven and model within Yugoslavia. Recent moves by many Serbian independent newspapers and magazines to Montenegro in an attempt to circumvent the strict restrictions of the infamous media law demonstrates this role.

The active participation by the Montenegrin electorate in the recent election process and the transparency, tolerance, flexibility and commitment to reform evident in some sectors of the Montenegrin government suggest that foreign aid may be more feasible there than other sectors of Yugoslavia. If the democratic movement in Montenegro is to succeed, however, further investment is required by international donors, including USAID, in: election official training, civic education; democratic governance and public administration, including efforts to ensure representation of Montenegro's minority groups in decision-making, law enforcement, and judicial bodies; rule of law; civil society; and support for Montenegro's Bosnian and Croatian refugees and displaced persons from Kosovo.

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