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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Can Montenegro make it on its own?
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Podgorica

As his supporters cheered and waved red and gold Montenegro flags, Milo Djukanovic smiled confidently and strode to the platform.

People celebrate with a national flag through central Podgorica
People celebrated the result in central Podgorica

The great survivor of Balkan politics was making another victory speech, congratulating his supporters and promising a brighter future.

"This is not just a victory, it is a triumph," he told the hundreds who had crammed themselves into a hall in the main government building in Podgorica. Many seemed in a trance of admiration for their great leader.

"This election proves that Montenegro is politically very stable and on the European track," he added.

Outside, young men raced their cars along the capital's tree-lined boulevards, hanging out of the windows and sounding their horns.

It is a sign of Mr Djukanovic's supreme confidence that he was declaring "absolute victory" before any official results had actually been announced.

But perhaps such confidence can be forgiven after 15 years of uninterrupted power, serving as either prime minister or president the entire time.

After all, this was just another election victory - apparently.

Amicable divorce

But this was something special - the first general election in an independent Montenegro after it broke away from its union with Serbia earlier this year.

it was the icing on the cake for Mr Djukanovic who had championed the independence cause.

I didn't care about independence and I don't care about this election
A Montenegrin citizen

The main Serbian opposition parties, who had opposed independence in the first place, were left licking their wounds after what appears to be their second mauling in less than five months.

The only apparent change on the political landscape is the emergence of a think-tank turned political party called the Movement for Change which has only been going a few months but achieved around 15% of the vote.

Led by the charismatic Nebojsa Medojevic, it has campaigned on policies of tackling corruption and reforming the political system. A force for the future, perhaps.

And so what of the future?

Montenegro is now truly on its own since its amicable divorce with Serbia. There is no more hiding behind the coattails of big brother Serbia and all the dodgy political baggage that comes with.

It now has to try to charter the waters towards the European Union membership and international respectability.

Developing tourism and continuing the privatisation process are likely to be central features of economic policy.

Negative views

But Montenegro is a small country with a population of less than 700,000 and a political and economic elite that has dominated the country for the best part of two decades.

The opposition feels alienated and the allegations of corruption against that embedded elite remain strong.

Milo Djukanovic speaks to the media at a polling station in Podgorica
Milo Djukanovic faces a new set of challenges post election

"I didn't care about independence and I don't care about this election," said one man to me in Podgorica's main square on election day.

"I just don't believe in our politicians, what they do or the system they run. I just prefer to get on with my own life."

Such negative views cannot be welcomed by any of Montenegro's political figures.

Milo Djukanovic has helped guide Montenegro through a traumatic period in modern Balkan history, avoiding much of the horror and devastation that has visited other republics of the former Yugoslavia.

But now comes the real test. Can Montenegro make it on its own?


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