On Sunday 24 September, Yugoslavs went to the polls to vote in the presidential and municipal elections. A Montenegrin official close to the republic's pro-Western leadership said Sunday voter turnout was worse than they expected, but even if he were to lose, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević would not go peacefully.
Slobodan Milošević faced the biggest challenge ever to his hardline rule in the key elections. In Montenegro, voting was sluggish and all sides traded allegations of voting irregularities.
Supporters of Milošević's main Serb rival Vojislav Koštunica, for instance, said one Serb man was caught stuffing a ballot box with 53 papers all marked "Milošević" in Herceg Novi on the Adriatic coast.
Most of Milošević's opponents stayed away under a boycott called by Montenegro's pro-Western government. President Milo Đukanović called the elections unconstitutional and said Milošević would rig the results.
Police loyal to Montenegro's government guarded the presidential palace and other government buildings, but there were no reports of feared clashes between them and the Yugoslav army.
Since voting ended late on Sunday evening, Montenegro has been gripped with tension, fearing a repeat of the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts, which began after both nations called for independence following referenda.
First results were expected around midnight on Monday. But when nothing appeared, both opposition candidate Vojislav Koštunica and Slobodan Milošević claimed victory. However, independent observers placed Koštunica well ahead with over 50 percent of the vote.
Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Dragiša Buržan supported this claim saying to Reuters: "We believe that Serbian opposition leader Vojislav Koštunica won an absolute victory."
Speaking to the Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanović stated: "I expect that Slobodan Milošević would not recognise the results of the elections and that he would try to pull different manipulations. I predict a repetition of events that happened in 1996, when Milošević lost local elections. The Montenegrin Government is extremely cautious at the moment, and we are prepared for all solutions. If Milošević manages to keep power with different manipulations, we in Montenegro will have to hold a referendum at the right moment."
As the wait continued, fears of vote rigging escalated and police presence on the Montenegrin streets increased. Police loyal to reformist President Milo Đukanović stepped up their presence in the Montenegrin capital Tuesday, notably around vital state institutions.
NATO forces in the region also stepped up their manoeuvres on the Yugoslav borders. The biggest NATO armada since the Kosovo war, including 15 ships from Britain, gathered in the Mediterranean as the opposition claimed it was ahead in the Yugoslav presidential elections.
Beta reported on Monday that NATO's show of strength, which involves the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible and the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, is intended to send a message to President Slobodan Milošević not to use force to maintain his hold on power if, as the opposition predicted, he is defeated.
After days of waiting, official results seeped through from Belgrade on Thursday. Milošević conceded defeat with roughly 38 per cent of the vote against Koštunica's 49 per cent. Because the results showed no single candidate with over 50 per cent of the votes, Milošević declared the need for a second round run-off.
Koštunica, Montenegro and the West have all announced that they will not support a second round and congratulations for victory have been sent to Koštunica from their Central and East European neighbours, in particular from Václav Havel in an address to the IMF/WB conference in Prague.
Dragiša Buržan commenting to Reuters said: "He's buying time but I think everything will be in vain and that the opposition would be making a huge, huge mistake by accepting."
And in other news...
On 26 September, Montenegrin Minister of Foreign Affairs Branko Lukovac met in Brussels with Coordinator of the Stability Pact Bodo Hombach, President of European Parliament's group for Southeastern Europe Doris Pack and President of International crises group Gareth Evans. Lukovac said: "Representatives of the EU gave a positive assessment of electoral results in Montenegro and supported Montenegrin citizens who refused to accept constitutional violence."
On Friday, a Montenegrin trade-informative mission opened in Sarajevo. Chief of this mission will be Dr Novak Kilibarda, former vice president of Montenegrin Government. On this occasion, the promotion of Montenegrin tourism was held in "Holiday Inn" Hotel in Sarajevo. Montenegrin Minister of Foreign Affairs Branko Lukovac and Montenegrin Minister of Tourism Vladimir Mitrovic attended the promotion.
The daily Vijesti wrote that the United Nations (UN) special envoy for human rights, Jirgi Dienstbier, visited Montenegro on 29 September. Dienstbier met with high Montenegrin officials as well as with UN representatives stationed in Montenegro.
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Beta news agency