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Voters Again Try to Elect President in Montenegro - 2003-02-09

Voters in the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro are trying again to choose a president, amid concerns that this round, like the first, could fail because of low turnout.

Polling stations opened early, following another appeal from officials that enough voters turn out to choose a president.

Former Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic of the governing pro-independence Democratic Party of Socialists is the favorite among nine candidates. He won more than 80 percent of the vote during the first round on December 22.

But, as in December, opinion polls suggest that this round will fail because turnout is expected to fall short of the required 50 percent.

The opposition Socialist People's Party has called again for a boycott of Montenegro's presidential election to protest against the policies of the pro-independence government, which opposition leaders say has ruined the economy. But analysts say the party's real reason is concern that it will lose the ballot.

A low turnout would be another major setback for organizers of what is the first election to be held in Montenegro, since it formed a new union with the former Yugoslav republic of Serbia last week.

The new country is a looser union, named Serbia and Montenegro. They were the only two republics that remained in Yugoslavia after a series of wars in the 1990s that led to independence for four other former Yugoslav republics.

The much larger republic of Serbia is also without a president, after voting failed twice because of low turnouts there, and a new election is expected in seven months.

Without clear winners in both republics, parliament speakers are now acting presidents in both.

The polls were expected to close later Sunday, although there have been suggestions that voting continue into Monday, because some polling stations may be closed because of the bitter Balkan winter weather.