Montenegro fails in second attempt to elect president

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The Independent Online

Montenegro failed, for the second time in two months, to elect a president yesterday because fewer than 50 per cent of voters turned out, which is the minimum needed for the poll to be declared valid.

Montenegro failed, for the second time in two months, to elect a president yesterday because fewer than 50 per cent of voters turned out, which is the minimum needed for the poll to be declared valid.

Only 47.1 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. "The presidential elections have failed," said Zlatko Vujovic of the Centre for Election Monitoring, a non-governmental organisation in the republic whose previous election results have proved reliable.

Montenegro's State Election Commission was not expected to release official results before today, but acknowledged that the turn-out was low.

The result mirrors that in Serbia, Montenegro's larger sister republic, where voters failed three times, under the same Milosevic-era rules, to elect a head of state.Both Serbia and Montenegro are without elected heads of state just days after their new union was announced. Last week the Yugoslav parliament voted to bury the remnants of the federation after a decade of wars.

In the first attempt in Montenegro, on 22 December, the turn-out reached 46 per cent of the approximately 460,000 eligible voters.

The top contender ­ Montenegro's pro-independence parliamentary speaker and former prime minister, Filip Vujanovic ­ outdistanced several other candidates in the December election and did so again yesterday, garnering more than 80 per cent of the votes in each ballot. Voter apathy is widely blamed for the poor turn-out, as it has been in Serbia. But bad weather was also a probable factor. The mountains of northern Montenegro are covered by snow and ice, and about 80 polling stations, out of a total of 1,100, did not manage to open.

Under the constitution, the parliamentary speaker ­ Mr Vujanovic ­ becomes the acting head of state, as did Natasa Micic in Serbia. The opposition Socialist People's Party (SPP) and a few other groups fielded no candidate and called for a boycott. The SPP, which was defeated in parliamentary elections in October, accuses the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of ruining the country's economy.

The constitution of the new union enables both Serbia and Montenegro to become independent states in three years. The new arrangement, brokered by the European Union, gives both republics almost complete independence but keeps them linked by a small central administration.

The authorities in Montenegro said earlier that they would change the law if the re-run presidential election failed because of a poor turn-out and that in future elections they would remove the requirement for a 50 per cent figure.

* A court in southern Serbia ruled yesterday that seven ethnic Albanians arrested on Saturday could be detained for a month pending a police investigation into possible terrorism charges. They were part of a group of 12 men arrested in a police sweep in two militant strongholds close to Kosovo province.

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