REFERENDUM ON THE STATE-STATUS OF MONTENEGRO (Serbia and Montenegro) observed on 21 May 2006

Rapporteur: Keith Whitmore, United Kingdom
Chamber of Regions
Political Group: ILDG



1. Introduction

1. On 2 March 2006, the Assembly of the Republic of Montenegro called for a Referendum on the state-legal status of Montenegro. On 21 May 2006, a total of 484 718 voters were invited to respond “yes” or “no” to the question: “Do you want the Republic of Montenegro to be an independent state, with full international and legal personality?”

2. Following an invitation by H.E. Mr Filip Vujanović, President of the Assembly of the Republic of Montenegro,1 the Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe decided to send a delegation to observe the Referendum2.

3. The delegation, headed by Keith Whitmore (UK, R, ILDG) was joined for the first time by four members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) of the European Union. The joint Congress/ Committee of the Regions delegation was composed of Nathalie Aureglia-Caruso (Monaco, NR, L), Catherine Bull (United Kingdom, PES), Ruth Coleman (United Kingdom, ALDE), David Lloyd-Williams (United Kingdom; ILDG, R), Patrick McGowan (Ireland, UEN/EA), Tereasa McGuire (Ireland, EPP/CD, L), Sean O’Brien (Ireland, SOC, L), Franz Schausberger (Austria, EPP/CD), Ludmila Sfirloaga (Romania, SOC, R), Georg Spartanski (Bulgaria, EPP/CD, L), Keith Whitmore (United Kingdom, ILDG, R) and Inkeri Yritis (Finland, SOC, R). On Referendum day, the 14-member delegation was deployed in 6 regions (Podgorica, Niksic, Bar, Cetinje, Danilovgrad and Bijelo Polje). The delegation was accompanied by Pilar Morales and Dolores Ríos of the Congress Secretariat.

4. The Congress was very pleased to have been invited to join the ranks of the International Referendum Observation Mission (IROM)3 to monitor the referendum process and thanks Professor Nevzat Yalcintas, Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Mr Jorgen Grunnet, Head of the ROM mission, for this opportunity. The Congress is convinced that this pooling of efforts in the monitoring of the Referendum process in Montenegro has been very beneficial for all the international organisations involved in the IROM in terms of enhanced technical capability, territorial coverage, co-ordination and consistency of findings. The statement issued by the IROM and presented during a press conference held in Podgorica on 22 May 2006 is shown in Appendix I.

5. On the days preceding the Referendum, the Congress/CoR delegation attended the briefing organized for the IROM delegation members. The Congress/CoR members also met with the Secretary of Development of Montenegro, the Minister of the Interior and members of the delegation of Serbia and Montenegro to the Congress (programme shown in Appendix II).

6. The Congress extends its thanks to all those included in the programme who provided very useful information, to its partners in the International Referendum Observation Mission, and in particular to Mr Jorgen Grunnet, Head of the ROM Mission and his staff for the very efficient support provided to the Congress during the preparation of its mission and on the spot.

2. Background

2.1 Legal framework of the 21 May Referendum

7. The Constitutional Charter of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2003) provides that union members have the right to initiate a procedure for a change of their state status upon the expiry of a three-year period4. On 7 April 2005, the Constitutional Charter was amended so as to include a provision according to which any referendum process aiming at withdrawal from the Union be carried out in full compliance with international democratic standards and be organized in co-operation with the European Union5.

8. The core law regulating the referendum on the state-status of Montenegro is the Special Law on the Referendum for State-Legal Status (LRSLS); this law was adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro on 1 March 2006 on the basis of a large consensus between political forces, strongly facilitated by Ambassador Miroslav Lajcak, the Special Envoy of the EU in charge of assisting the authorities and the opposition in coming to an agreement on the referendum conditions. The LRSLS stipulates that provisions of the Law on Election of Councillors and Representatives (2002) shall apply to the referendum administration procedure in those areas which are not covered by the LRSLS. The law on Voter Registers (2000) applies also.

9. The LRSLS takes fully into account the opinion of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on the compatibility of the existing legislation in Montenegro concerning the organisation of referendums with applicable international standards6. This opinion comprises recommendations aiming at ensuring the referendum’s compliance with international standards and practice in electoral matters as well as the legitimacy of its outcome in such a crucial issue as self-determination.

10. According to Article 5 of the LRSLS, a positive decision on independence requires the support of at least 55% of valid votes cast, provided that the majority of the total number of registered voters has voted in the referendum. Though reluctantly, these majority requirements were agreed by pro-independence and pro-union political forces.

11. With regard to voting requirements, the LRSLS establishes the right to vote of those citizens of Montenegro aged over 18 who have been permanent residents of Montenegro for at least 24 months. Serbian citizens meeting these residence requirements and Montenegrin citizens temporarily residing elsewhere are also eligible to vote. The controversial issue of extending the right to vote to Montenegrin citizens residing in Serbia was finally resolved in line with the Venice Commission’s opinion which considered that such an extension “at the present stage would be incompatible with the necessary stability of the voting rules and jeopardise the legitimacy of the referendum as well as the reliability of the voters’ list.”

2.2 Political context

12. Over the last few years the question of state status for Montenegro has become one of the major issues – if not the main topic – of political debate in Montenegro.

13. The current political panorama of Montenegro is divided into two competing blocs consisting of parties in parliament as well as non-parliamentary parties or NGOs which have become affiliated through a formal agreement to either side. While the Pro-independence bloc (PIB) is in favour of the independence of Montenegro, the Pro-Union bloc (PUB) is in favour of maintaining the state union with Serbia as agreed in 2002 following the EU-negotiated Belgrade Agreement on the creation of the State Union between Serbia and Montenegro. In reference to the clearly stated question of the referendum the two sides have also become known as the “yes/da” or “no/ne” bloc.

14. The main parties in the PIB or “yes” bloc are the ruling Party of Democratic Socialists (DPS), with Prime Minister Milo Djukanović and its main coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to which the Speaker of Parliament, Ranko Kivokapić, belongs. In addition there are two parties which represent the Albanian minority coalition known as “Albanians together” – the Democratic Union of Albanians (DUA) and the Democratic Alliance in Montenegro (DSCG). Three non-parliamentary parties are also included, namely the Liberal Party of Montenegro (LPCG), the Civic Party (CP) and the newly-formed Bosniak Party (BS).

15. The PUB or “no” bloc is composed of the parliamentary opposition parties, with Mr Predrag Bulatović’s Socialist People’s Party (SNP), the People’s Party (NS), the Serbian People’s Party (SNS) and the non-parliamentary Democratic Serbian Party (DSS). A smaller coalition of Bosniak non-governmental organisations – the Bosniak Bloc for Unified Sandjak and the Preservation of the State Union is also included.

16. The census carried out in 2003 established the following breakdown of ethnic groups among the 670 000 citizens of the Republic of Montenegro: 43% Montenegrins, 32% Serbs, 11.7% Bosniaks and Muslims, 5% Albanians, 1% Croats and 7% “other” which includes, amongst others, a Roma population estimated at approximately 20 000 and a number of internally displaced people and refugees.

17. Overall, the legislative reforms adopted in Montenegro over the last few years in fields such as minority rights and the media can be positively assessed in terms of consolidation of democracy.

3. The Referendum

3.1 Referendum administration

18. As agreed during the negotiations carried out with the support of the Special Envoy of the EU at the beginning of 2006 an international personality, Ambassador Frantisek Lipka, was appointed as Chairman of the Republic Referendum Commission (RRC) on 15 March 2006.

19. The other bodies established to administer the referendum are the 21 Municipal Referendum Commissions (MRCs) and over 1100 Polling Boards (PBs) consisting respectively of 10 and 6 members each. Both blocs (PIB and PUB) are equally represented on all referendum administration bodies, a decision fully consistent with the Venice Commission recommendations. Furthermore, the LRSLS established a formula intended to ensure the most equitable and transparent distribution of the position of Chair of the MRCs and PBs between the two blocs.

20. Whilst Ambassador Lipka holds a casting vote, in the absence of consensus at MRC and PB level the decision has to be referred to the RRC. It should be noted, however, that in spite of the difficulty to find agreement at times, all significant decisions were finally taken by consensus between the parties.

3.2 Referendum campaign

21. At midnight on 18 May all campaign activities came to a halt as an agreed campaign silence period came into force 48 hours before referendum day. Prior to that date, the campaign had been very active and competitive.

22. While the PIB’s campaign focused largely on independence as a step towards integration in Europe with the historic roots of Montenegro as an underlying leitmotiv, the PUB stressed the historical, cultural and economic ties between the two peoples. Furthermore, some analysts have seen the European Union’s suspension of talks on closer ties with Serbia on account of the Belgrade government's failure to arrest top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladić as having given a boost to the pro-independence campaign. A long-standing position of Mr Djukanović has been that Montenegro alone would stand a better chance of achieving EU membership than linked to Serbia, and the EU's suspension of talks with Serbia is seen in some quarters as vindication of this argument.

23. The “no” campaign also addressed a number of voters’ concerns such as access to health care, education and the fear that new borders might hinder friend and family contacts. Several observers felt that the “no” campaign showed a lack of consistent and cogent arguments in favour of maintaining the Union and was reminiscent in many ways of the political atmosphere of the Milosević era. For both blocs, the “door to door” campaigning at grass-roots level played an important role in the pre-referendum period. Televised confrontations were followed by a large share of the Montenegrin population.

24. A parliamentary Referendum Financing Committee was specifically appointed to monitor financing of the referendum campaign. While equal PIB/PUB representation was ensured, the LRSLS required the Chair to be a pro-Union (PUB) representative. This committee was charged with overseeing campaign expenses, ensuring the strict respect of impartiality of the use of public funds and monitoring their use with a view to reacting to possible abuse of state resources.

25. A second body, the Committee for Media Coverage, was also established by the LRSLS. The task of this committee, whose Chair was required to be a pro-Independence (PIB) representative, was to monitor implementation of the legal provisions for media coverage of the referendum campaign and evaluate media-related complaints.

26. A Code of conduct for media in the pre-referendum period7 was signed by all significant Montenegrin media as well as some Serb media. Signatories committed themselves to respecting the principles of independence, impartiality, fairness and balance in the coverage of the referendum campaign.

27. In spite of these measures, several media analysts concur that the “yes” campaign had been much more active and that the Government has made use of its privileged position to campaign in favour of independence. It should also be noted that during the campaign the Government issued a number of declarations on post-referendum policies in which independence was a given, in particular on relations with Serbia, the rights of Serbian citizens in Montenegro, future accession to the EU and economic policies.

28. Media analysts also underlined that the referendum did not receive wide coverage in Serbian media.

3.3 Voter Register

29. The Secretariat for Development of the Republic of Montenegro was entrusted with centralising the municipal voters’ registers and integrating this information in a single database, the Central Voter Register (CVR).

30. A system allowing cross-checking for duplicate entries, errors or missing data ensured an extremely low margin of error. Furthermore, the register had been opened for public inspection by the RRC enabling political parties to request corrections, which increased confidence in the CVR. According to international long-term observers, the way in which the compilation and updating of voters data was carried out was remarkably transparent.

31. The total number of registered voters was 484 718.

4. Referendum day

32. The Congress concurs with the opinion of its partners on the International Referendum Observation Mission that the referendum atmosphere was calm and peaceful and that the referendum process was conducted in an orderly and efficient manner.

33. Voters were presented with a referendum question which was both clear and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation in line with the Venice Commission’s Opinion.

34. The prime importance of the issue was reflected by the very high turnout (86.3% announced on 22 May) on referendum day which, in the opinion of the Congress, not only lends the referendum outcome crucial legitimacy but will be an essential factor in its successful implementation. The general climate of co-operation and goodwill was further evidenced by the patience with which voters – sometimes elderly persons – faced lengthy queues.

35. The Voters Register was greatly improved, in line with past recommendations made to the Montenegrin authorities by international observer organisations including the Congress. The system of cross-checking of the register, carried out in a transparent manner and in co- operation with the political parties, guaranteed a low margin of error and ensured the confidence of the voters and different political forces.

36. Confidence was further enhanced by the large presence of observers both domestic and international. Non-partisan non-governmental organisations8 were present in almost every polling station. The International Referendum Observation Mission deployed 365 short-term observers on Referendum day, covering over 1000 polling stations.

37. The Congress welcomes the strict parity enforced between pro-independence and pro-union parties in the composition of polling boards; this rule acted as a safeguard against potential irregularities. Nevertheless, it considers the low number of women sitting on polling boards and the negligible amount of female Chairs to be a matter which should be addressed, in line with its recommendations concerning gender balance in public bodies.

38. Members of polling boards appeared to have a good overall understanding of voting procedures. The Republic Referendum Commission issued detailed regulations for Polling Boards in booklet form which, according to polling board members, contained very useful guidelines for the conduct of referendum day. In spite of these efforts, progress can and should certainly be made as a number of inadequacies were noted by the observers across the board.

39. These shortcomings, some of them significant, included several instances of improperly sealed ballot boxes directly observed by the Congress delegation. In addition, board members were required by Article 61 of the LRSLS to record the presence of all observers at their polling stations. In a majority of cases the presence of Congress members was not registered.

40. Not all electors received the official notification containing polling station information and polling board members were, in many cases, unable to inform these people as to where to find the correct information.

41. Furthermore some instances of family voting were reported. More serious breaches of the secrecy of the vote included clearly illegal practices such as vote-buying; observers reported seeing voters taking photos of their marked ballot paper with their mobile telephone.

42. While clearly not of a fraudulent nature and few in number, these instances of inefficiency reveal a clear lack of understanding of the reason behind certain procedures and therefore a need for adequate training of all officials with a view to future elections. In no way, however, do they undermine the results of the referendum.

43. One further issue which the Congress feels needs to be addressed is that of accessibility. While mobile voting proved efficient on referendum day, efforts should be made at local level to enhance future democratic participation by working towards greater accessibility to polling stations for the elderly and the disabled for whom no provision had been made in the vast majority of stations visited by the observers.

5. Conclusions

44. According to the results announced by the Chairman of the Republic Referendum Commission on 23 May 20069, the independence of Montenegro was supported by 55.5% of those who voted and the official voter turnout reached 86.3%. This outcome meets the majority requirements agreed by national political forces and the international community. In the view of the Congress, the referendum result is a reflection of the free will of the Montenegrin people. Moreover, the high voter turnout and the percentage of voter support for independence lend the referendum outcome the crucial legitimacy that is essential for the peaceful and successful implementation of the referendum results.

45. The world-wide media coverage of the referendum in Montenegro on referendum day in particular shows the fundamental importance of the issue not only in the Balkans but also at international level.

46. The Congress, as part of the Council of Europe, and a forum for over 20 000 local and regional authorities in Europe, reiterates its willingness to accompany Montenegro in the process of its full integration in Europe.

The recommendations of the Congress to the Montenegrin authorities based on the observation of the referendum on state legal status of Montenegro are presented in document CG(13)15, Recommendation.





For further information contact:



Committee of the Regions


Friday, 19th May

Arrival in Podgorica, Hotel accommodation



Secretariat for development of Montenegro
Responsible for Voters Register


Minister of the Interior


Members of the delegation of Serbia and Montenegro to the Congress


Deployment packs available10

17.00 – 17.15

Welcoming Remarks*
Prof. Nevzat Yalcintas, Vice-President of OSCE PA, Head of OSCE PA Delegation, Special co-ordinator of the OSCE Short Term Observers
Remarks by
Mr Jean-Charles Gardetto, Head of PACE Delegation
Mr Jelko Kacin, Head of EP Delegation
Mr Keith Whitmore, Head of Congress Delegation

17.15 - 18.00

Introduction and brief political analysis
17.15-17.30: Mr Jøergen Grunnet, ROM Head of Mission
17.30-17.40: Ambassador Paraschiva Badescu, Head of OSCE Office in Podgorica
17.40-17.50: Mr Vladimir Ristovski, Head of COE office in Podgorica
17.50-18.00: Mr Jan Haukaas, Head of European Union Monitoring Mission

18.00 - 18.30

Meeting with Domestic Observer Groups*

    · Mr Marko Ćanović (Centre for Democratic Transition)
    · Ms Olivera Komar (Centre for Election Monitoring)

18.30 - 19.30

Media representatives (key public and private electronic and print media)*

    · Mr Źeljko Rutović, Chairman of the Committee for media coverage of the referendum campaign (PIB)
    · Mr Slaviša Guberinić, Secretary of the Committee for media coverage of the referendum campaign (PUB)
    · Mr Ranko Vujović, Executive Director of the Union of Independent Electronic Media of Montenegro
    · Mr Vojislav Raonić, Director of Montenegro Media Institute


Private arrangements

Saturday, 20 May

09.00 – 10.30

ROM Core Team*

    · Jørgen Grunnet (ROM Head of Mission)

Political overview and background to the referendum

    · Ian Mitchell, ROM Political Analyst

Legal and referendum framework

    · Elisavet Karagannidou, ROM Legal Analyst
    · Simeon Apostolov, ROM Referendum Analyst

Campaign activities

    · Ian Mitchell, ROM Political Analyst
    · Marek Mracka, ROM Media Analyst

Polling procedures and observation forms

    · Simeon Apostolov, ROM Referendum Analyst
    · Richard Chambers, ROM Deputy Head of Mission
    · Hannah Roberts, ROM LTO Coordinator

10.30 - 14.15


    · Miodrag Vlahović (Minister of Foreign Affairs)


    · Ambassador Frantisek Lipka (Chairman of Republican Referendum Commission)


    Senior Representatives (Pro-Independence Block)
    · Mr Ranko Krivokapić – Social Democratic Party
    · Mr Ferhat Dinosa or Mr Hamdi Hasani – Democratic Union of Albanians
    · Mr Milo Djukanović – Party of Democratic Socialists
    · Mr Gjokë Duka, - Democratic Alliance of Montenegro
    · Mr Ivan Vujović instead of Mr Krsto Pavicević – Civic Party
    · Mr Zdravko Soc instead of Mr Zivković – Liberal Party

Senior Representatives (Pro-Union Block)

    · Mr Velizar Kaludjerović (instead of Mr Predrag Bulatovic) – Socialist People’s Party
    · Mr Predrag Popović – Socialist People’s Party
    · Mr Andrija Mandić – Democratic Serb Party
    · Ms Dragica Perović instead of Mr Ranko Kadić – Democratic Serb Party

14.15 – 14.45

Regional briefing for Teams in Podgorica*
OSCE/ODIHR LTOs for Podgorica


Meetings with drivers and interpreters for Teams in Podgorica (to make arrangements for referendum day)


Private arrangements


Dinner for Heads of Delegations
Venue: Restaurant Leonardo, Podgorica

Sunday, 21 May

All day

Observation of Opening, Voting and Vote Count
Venue: various Polling Stations

Monday, 22 May


De-briefing of delegations


Press Conference*



1 Letter addressed by Mr Ranko Krivokapić, President of the Parliament, Republic of Montenegro, to Mr Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, on 7 March 2006.
2 CG BUR (12) DEC 7 3 The International Referendum Observation Mission was composed of the following organisations: Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), European Parliament, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
4 Article 60 of the Constitutional Charter: “Upon the expiry of a 3-year period, member states shall have the right to initiate the proceedings for a change in their state status, or for breaking away from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The decision on breaking away from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro shall be taken following a referendum. The Law on Referendum shall be passed by a member state, bearing in mind the internationally recognized democratic standards…” 5 Agreement amending the Constitutional Charter: “…3. Regulations on a possible referendum, in accordance with Article 60 of the Constitutional Charter must be founded on internationally recognized democratic standards. The member organizing a referendum will co-operate with the European Union on respecting international democratic standards, as envisaged by the Constitutional Charter”…” 6 CDL-AD(2005)041; adopted by the Venice Commission on 16-17 December 2005. The Opinion was prepared at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
7 Drafted by the Association of the Electronic Independent Media of Montenegro (UNEM).
8 Domestic observer organisations accredited to monitor the Referendum: Centre for Election Monitoring (CEMI), Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT), Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) and Montenegrin Helsinki Committee. Certain NGOs invited partner organisations from Serbia to observe the referendum process.
9 Final results will be anounced between 7 and 15 days after referendum day.
10 Venue: Hotel Crna Gora, Zelena Sala