Poll could mark split between Montenegro and Serbia

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Slobodan Milosevic has suffered a heavy blow to his waning authority over what remains of the old Yugoslavia, with the decisive victory of reformist progressives in Sunday's parliamentary elections in Serbia's smaller sister republic of Montenegro.

With almost all the vote counted, the reformist coalition of Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic had won almost 50 per cent - giving it an outright majority of at least 40 seats in the 78-seat assembly in the capital, Podgorica.

Its main opponent, the socialist party led by the Milosevic protege Momir Bulatovic, is likely to finish with some 36 per cent of the vote and no more than 31 seats, with the remainder going to a variety of smaller parties.

Most significantly the election appears to have been fair by Yugoslav standards, with observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) deeming it a "significant improvement" on earlier polls, and even the Bulatovic forces indicating they would not contest the outcome.

The result seems certain to see Montenegro putting further distance between itself and the repressive nationalist regime in Belgrade, now embroiled in conflict with Albanian separatists in the tinderbox southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

Montenegro had shown "the wisdom, courage and resolve to resist those who had decided to enslave it", Mr Djukanovic told his jubilant supporters yesterday - vowing that his republic would not only move towards Europe, but take Serbia with it.

The boast is not entirely without foundation. Technically, the Montenegrin and Serbian parliaments have an equal number of representatives in the upper house of the federal Yugoslav parliament in Belgrade which elects Mr Milosevic.

The latter's trump card however could be the role of Mr Bulatovic as federal prime minister, in which capacity he could order a clampdown in Montenegro if Mr Milosevic decided it was his only option.