Ph.D. in History, Senior Research Associate, RAS Institute of Slavonic Studies, RIAC Expert
Montenegro approached its latest elections in the state of a crisis caused by a whole range of socioeconomic and political factors. Montenegro’s socioeconomic problems, for instance, a high unemployment rate, are typical for the entire region. As regards the political reasons, one could single out dissatisfaction with Milo Djukanovic’s regime and attempts to draw the country into NATO which have intensified since mid-2014. The situation was quite tense last year. The opposition held several protests, even in the parliament. On January 27, 2016, the ruling coalition split after the Social Democratic Party left.
EPA/BORIS PEJOVIC Montenegrin parliamentary elections
The tension could be felt in Montenegro’s media as well. The Monitor magazine published seven critical articles about Mr. Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in just a single issue. The magazine promoted the idea that “today, the DPS is weaker than it appears to be” . Both Russian experts and Western observers noted that the positions of the current elite had been shaken.
After the elections, 9 blocs should receive seats in the Parliament. The DPS came in first with 36 seats (41.1%). 41 seats (55.1%) will go to the opposition parties (with three independent blocs): The Democratic Front (18), the Key (9), the Democrats (8), the Social Democratic Party (4), the Social Democrats of Montenegro (2). 4 seats should go to ethnic minorities: Bosnians, Croats, and Albanians.
The elections’ results
To understand the elections results, it is necessary to keep in mind the peculiarities of Montenegrin politics. Firstly, Montenegro is the only European country where the government has not changed once since 1990. 9 parliamentary electoral campaigns (not counting the latest elections) reproduced the same political force represented by the former League of Communists which had transformed into Mr. Djukanovic’s DPS. Secondly, as the political scientist Vladimir Dobrosavljevic notes, the country’s entire history, including the Kingdom of Montenegro, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Socialist Yugoslavia, has never known a change in authority brought about by election. The political stagnation of the last 26 years has led to the formation of a small stratum of Montenegrin’s elite closely linked to Mr. Djukanovic. This elite is so greatly interested in preserving its position and privileges it would do anything to keep them, including “antagonizing the relations between the groups with various identities within the country, inventing domestic and foreign enemies, creating tensions in international relations” .
Mandate distribution in Parliament of Montenegro www nspm rs
As of now, the elections’ results pose more questions than they offer answers. On the one hand, the DPS has in any case finished with its worst result ever, and the opposition has a real chance to form a ruling coalition. On the other hand, Mr. Djukanovic's result is still high, even if it has been secured by interested parties, such as ethnic minorities (about 25%), the diaspora, and the civil servants.
As Igor Damjanovic, a coordinator of the “No to war – no to NATO” movement, notes the results are in essence negative, since the opposition did not unite its forces before the elections and lost at least two seats. Even if the coalition is formed, it will be shaky due to many participants, diverging positions, pressure from the ruling party and the “external factor,” i.e. the US Embassy. Mr. Damjanovic notes that it is probably futile to hope that ethnic minorities’ parties will join the opposition, as many media claim today. Previously, they have always supported Mr. Djukanovic. It is telling that the Albanian minority gave even more votes to Mr. Djukanovic than before. Previously, the Albanian parties had 2-4 seats, today they have only one.
Immediately after the elections, information appeared about blocking Whatsapp and Viber messengers in Montenegro. It looks like an attempt to prevent the “street protest scenario.” As in the recent Serbian elections, on October 16 multiple reports surfaced about vote-rigging at polling stations. There are also questions concerning the vote count. It could easily serve as grounds for a recount of seats and provoke a large opposition rally as it happened in Belgrade on April 30. Although the opposition is being plagued by disappointment, the atmosphere of reaction and confrontation can escalate the situation, since the present campaign had taken a very personal turn: the parties did not shun direct attacks and insults. Thus, rallies are possible, but it could merely channel protest toward pacifying the situation instead of spurring the protest on.
Elections in a larger context
The electoral campaign was presented in the international light. Mr. Djukanovic spouted anti-Russian rhetoric. His latest claim was accusing Russia of influencing the elections results, which was clearly a variation of the background information noise of the US electoral campaign.
However, the Montenegrin situation is the product of its domestic affairs, of the growth of social tensions. Firstly, the September 27 – October 24, 2015 rally dispersed by the Montenegrin police was held in opposition to the regime, not to NATO. Only one faction of the protesters assumed a clearly anti-NATO stance. Secondly, it is not entirely correct to view the events of last fall as the starting point of the crisis. The first protests suppressed by the police were held back on February 17, 2014. At that point, the Russia-West relations only started to deteriorate, but massive social unrest occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Finally, the negative trend for the DPS started back at the 2012 elections when the party received 7 seats fewer than in 2009.
Of course, the international factor is present. Montenegro’s regional neighbors follow the developments closely. Zagreb, Sarajevo, Tirana, and Pristina support Montenegro’s accession to NATO, since they perceive reverse trends as a step toward the unification of the Serbian people and a threat to their own security. The Republika Srpska adheres to the opposite stance. For the Republika Srpska, Montenegro’s accession to NATO means an increase in external pressure. Serbia’s position should also be mentioned. Its Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Mr. Djukanovic have common economic interests (the construction of the Belgrade – Bar road) and Mr. Vucic is not interested in fomenting a revolutionary situation on Serbia’s doorstep.
One scenario often mentioned today is Mr. Djukanovic's resignation as part of a controlled normalization of the situation. There are several possible variants of the combination. Yet there are arguments in favor of keeping him in power. Firstly, replacing Mr. Djukanovic with another leader, even if with a Euro-Atlantic-oriented one, creates a precedent for a chain reaction is Serbia where the situation is also tense. Secondly, his unprepared departure is rather fraught with the breakdown of the established structure of relations with the heads of Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania regarding border control, transit, and infrastructure projects. Thirdly, society in Montenegro is highly traditional, and it makes the authorities here historically more stable. Unlike in Serbia, where coups d’état and assassinations are workable political tools, Montenegrin heads of state usually left their office due to natural causes.
Probably, looking for European influence also makes sense. Today, the EU attempts to increase its role and become “the independent center of world politics” . It implies strengthening the EU’s own independent politics in the Balkans, since this region is crucial for the EU. A change in Montenegro’s authorities and the ascension to power of a liberal pro-European party would be in the EU’s interests, or at least in the interests of Germany or Italy.
Either way, the current campaign creates grounds for a serious opposition to emerge with a radically new program based on neutrality and euro-skepticism. It did strengthen over the last two years, when the problem of Montenegro’s geopolitical choice became more acute. Therefore, the emergence of radical differences in Montenegro, as well as in other Balkan states, should be sought in the area of foreign politics.
1 Monitor. 30.09.2016.
3 Timofeev I. EU-Russia: Selective Engagement and Strategic Security Dialogue Russian International Affairs Council. 28.09.2016.