Montenegro vote is boost for Balkan democracy
A Swiss election observer has hailed Montenegro's decision to secede from Serbia in a tight vote and become Europe's newest state as "extremely democratic".
Parliamentarian Andreas Gross, one of 3,000 foreign and local observers present in the former Yugoslav republic, said the legitimacy of the ballot couldn't be questioned.
Official results published on Tuesday showed that 55.5 per cent of Sunday's votes were in favour of cutting ties with Serbia, according to a preliminary count.
The European Union had set a target of 55 per cent for recognition.
"The calm, sincere, serious, fair way in which the vote took place is something rare nowadays – even in Switzerland," said Gross.
"It is particularly striking when you know what is at stake – the creation of a new state and separation from Serbia."
Although the vote had deeply divided Montenegro, Gross believes that the "unionists" who were against independence will now accept the result.
"The whole process has been extremely fair – for both sides," said the Zurich parliamentarian.
"Over the past four years Montenegro has been preparing for this decision - including the pro-union camp. They got used to the idea that they couldn't prevent them from seceding. It was just a question of time," he added.
But Gross criticised the EU's minimum threshold of "yes" votes for independence as "arbitrary" and "dangerous".
"55.5 per cent is a clear democratic majority. Imagine if only 54 per cent had said "yes"; a minority would then have prevented a majority decision," he told swissinfo.
"This would have created instability and the kind of situation that is not needed in the Balkans."
The Swiss foreign ministry called the vote an important democratic decision for the futures of Serbia and Montenegro and that of the whole region.
The EU, for its part, said on Monday it welcomed the "successful" independence referendum by Montenegro.
The Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed that the EU would fully respect the result of the referendum.
"It seems that the process was orderly and we have to congratulate everybody for that," he said, adding that the turnout confirmed the referendum's legitimacy.
Serb politicians, Orthodox Church leaders and Montenegrins from the mountainous inland regions bordering Serbia broadly opposed secession.
However, ethnic Montenegrins and Albanians from the coastal area largely backed the prime minister and favoured independence.
Fears of unrest proved unfounded, however. International monitors reported "regular and peaceful" voting in all 21 municipalities, with "small problems" at only a few polling stations.
There is no clear plan of how the practical details of separation will be sorted out. EU officials have urged both sides to negotiate an orderly separation if the independence camp won.
Montenegro would be the last of the federal republics - after Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia - to part company with the Serb-dominated former Yugoslavia.
The vote leaves Serbia alone to deal with pressing issues such as United Nations-led talks on potential independence for its breakaway Kosovo province.
The republic's future membership of the EU is now also in limbo due to its failure to deliver Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.
swissinfo, Simon Bradley
According to the 2003 census, the population of Montenegro is 670,000, of whom 43% are Montenegrins, 32% Serbs, 14% Muslim Slav, 7% Albanians, 1% Croats and 1% Roma.
Montenegro's union with Serbia was established in 2003, replacing what was left of the former Yugoslavia.
Both sides were given the option of electing to leave the union after three years.
The union with Serbia is "loose": Montenegro has its own government, parliament, currency and customs arrangements.
The last time Montenegro was independent was nearly 90 years ago at the end of World War I, when it was absorbed into the newly formed Yugoslavia.
According to official results, 55.5 per cent voted for Montenegro to become an independent state, just above the 55% required for an EU-sanctioned victory.
Turnout was 86.5%.
The Montenegrin diaspora had the right to vote – with the exception of Montenegrins living in Serbia, who were barred from voting in the referendum.
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