Podgorica, Yugoslavia Advocates of independence captured a majority of seats in Montenegro's parliamentary elections Sunday, a move expected to spur the republic's separation from the Yugoslav federation after a public referendum that could be held as early as June or July.
A non-governmental election monitoring group estimated that pro-independence parties won 41 of the 77 seats, short of a two-thirds mandate sought by President Milo Djukanovic. But that is still enough for him to claim majority support for Montenegro's withdrawal from its 83-year union with the republic of Serbia.
A broad conviction that the election represented a decisive turning point in this tiny, mountainous republic produced a record turnout at the polls in rainy weather. An estimated 81 percent of the 447,600 eligible voters cast their ballots and there were no major incidents, monitoring groups said.
Western officials have expressed concern that Montenegro's move could stoke separatist passions in the neighboring Serbian province of Kosovo and in regions of Bosnia dominated by ethnic Croats and Serbs. But supporters of independence depicted their votes Sunday as a legitimate quest for national sovereignty and quick integration with the West after years of domination by Serbia, which has a population nearly 20 times larger.
"It is essential for us to have our own state, our own home, and bring our own decisions," said Zoran Milutinovic, 42, as he voted at an elementary school here in the capital.
Montenegro would be the fifth and final republic to separate from the communist-led Yugoslav federation created at the close of World War II, and the second to do so peacefully. Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia had to fight their way out in the early 1990s, over Serbia's opposition, while Macedonia achieved independence in a 1991 referendum. Montenegro surrendered its independence to Serbia in 1918.