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Montenegro Ready to Postpone Census Amid Opposition Pressure

Montenegrin Prime Minister-designate Milojko Spajic said on Tuesday that his future cabinet will postpone the upcoming census for a month amid fears for its legitimacy if opposition parties’ supporters heed a call to boycott the headcount over their allegations that there could be fraud.

The census is due to begin on November 1, but the national minority councils representing Bosniaks and Croats and the opposition Democratic Party of Socialists, Social Democrats and Liberal Party have urged the authorities to postpone it and urged their voters not to participate.

“The new government will propose the postponing of the census for a month, in order to create the conditions for its absolute legitimacy, through the improvement of transparency and inclusiveness, and by accepting the essential demands of the opposition,” Spajic announced.

“The participation of the opposition in the census commissions is important for its legitimacy and the relevance of the data,” he added.

It’s expected that Spajic’s cabinet will be voted in by the end of next week. Outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic, who has been ruling the country since August, said on October 23 that Spajic should make the decision about the postponement of the census.

On Monday, the mayors of the towns of Bar, Bijelo Polje and Cetinje said they couldn’t organise census commissions due to the opposition boycott. The three mayors are also officials of the opposition Democratic Party of Socialists and Social Democratic Party.

On October 20, the opposition DPS’s interim president Danijel Zivkovic called for a boycott, saying that the national Statistical Office had refused to allow opposition representatives to monitor the process.

“The statistical office ignored our request, even though all parliamentary political party representatives were checking the process during the last census in 2011. Whoever participates in this census gives legitimacy to a fraudulent process,” Zivkovic told the media.

The Statistical Office’s management denied the claims and asked the Police Directorate to carry out a safety assessment for the census enumerators ahead of the opposition boycott.

Prime Minister-designate Spajic promised on Tuesday said that the population census process will be transparent.

“We will also propose the introduction of special software, which would allow every citizen to carry out a check after the enumerator takes the data, which would prevent any fraud and alleged bias on the part of the enumerator,” Spajic said.

Censuses are a sensitive ethnic issue in Montenegro, where roughly 45 per cent of the population identify as Montenegrin, 30 per cent as Serb, 8.6 per cent as Bosniak and 4.5 per cent as Albanian, according to the 2011 headcount.

Ethnic identity and politics have long been hard to separate in the country, meaning that political parties have an important stake in the outcome of any census.

The opposition alleges that the pro-Serb parties that are part of the outgoing government will use the November census to increase the percentage of Serbs through political campaigning and institutional pressure.

During the last census, in 2011, religious and political leaders made numerous appeals to various ethnic and religious groups, urging them to declare their respective ethnicity or religion in the headcount.

Source : Balkan Insight

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