Sunday, May 21, 2006

Montenegro: Pretty Clear Question, Fear of an Unclear Majority

Canadians find secession referenda relatively interesting. The BBC is reporting unofficial results that suggest that Montenegrins have voted to secede from what remains of Yugoslavia (basically just them and Serbia). Matthew comments here.

From a Canadian point-of-view, the referendum doesn't do too badly on the "clear question" front. Montenegrins are asked, "Do you want Montenegro to be an independent state with full international and legal legitimacy?" Personally, I would oppose the emotive words about legitimacy, but I'm sure Joe Clark would tell us how oppressive it would be if the people of Quebec were asked something that straightforward.

The super-majority makes sense in the abstract, since it ought to be difficult to undo a constitutional relationship. On the other hand, there is no doubt that there would be trouble if the final result turns out to be somewhere between 50% and 55%. Ultimately, I think that a super-majority requirement can only work if it is bargained for as part of a broader deal. In the Canadian context, if we go down the route of further constitutional negotiations (God forbid), then the ROC should insist on some sort of super-majority requirement in the terms for secession. (I think it is critical to have a secession option set out in the written constitution as part of any further deal.)

Montenegro may show us the trouble that will follow if the ROC insists on something more than 50% plus one without having bargained for it first.

Update: The official results are 55.4% in favour of secession. Assuming these stand up, a bullet has been narrowly dodged.

Matthew has an update as well. He points to something troubling: while other members of the federation had no say in the secession vote, "diaspora" Montenegrins were allowed to vote, and one suspects that they voted disproportionately in favour of secession.

Update 2: Thanks to slate for the link.

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