Serbia and Montenegro, the last Communist-ruled Yugoslav republics, on Sunday hold multiparty elections that could decide whether the country stays together or disintegrates.

In the country's largest republic, Serbia, the first free vote in more than 50 years pits the Socialists, formerly the Communists, against a host of center-right nationalist parties.In traditionally pro-Communist Montenegro, the country's smallest republic, the vote is being contested by the ruling Communists and 10 other parties, including some who seek union with neighboring Serbia.

In the struggle to shape the country's future, the western republics of Croatia and Slovenia, where center-right parties ousted Communists in spring elections, want more independence from the federation and have threatened to secede.

They are pitted against Serbia and Montenegro, whose politicians generally favor a strong central government, although some have accepted the possibility that the country could break up.

The race between Socialist leader Slobodan Milosevic and his bitter rival, Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, for Serbia's powerful presidency is the most important in Sunday's elections.

Milosevic has so far refused to negotiate with rival Croatia and Slovenia on the country's future. But Draskovic has suggested there might be no stopping the country's breakup.