Parliamentary elections are readily perceived as a new beginning. Not so in Montenegro. In the last years the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics was one person: Milo Đukanović. Unlike any other politician in this region, he remained on the forefront of political decision-making for now 25 years and switched between being prime minister and president. His political career and his ideological adaptation mirror the development of the country since the end of communist rule.
Once again this parliamentary election was not about new ideas or a vision for Montenegro. It was a medley of a struggle for survival by the ruling elite, accusations of election fraud by the opposition, and pressure by external actors (namely EU, NATO and Russia). The overarching question was rather simple, carry on as before or choose a new path? Based on these introductory remarks, I will in the following post, briefly describe how Milo Đukanović shaped the course of his country in the last 25 years, the specifics of the 2016 campaign and election and its consequences for the country.
To give you the executive summary of the election: Đukanović’s party won the election but without securing the absolute majority in parliament.
Milo Đukanović has and had formative influence on the democratic practice, the political process and the development of the society in Montenegro. His political career started after the end of communist rule and in the beginning he was a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Prime Minister from 1991-1998, from 2003-2006, from 2008-2010 and since 2012. In between he was President of the Republic from 1998-2003 (Prime Minister Montenegro 2016). His personal dominance was not clearly evident right from the beginning. Contrary to Croatia or Serbia, Montenegro was dominated by a so-called ruling oligarchy (Vukicević and Vujovic 2012, 56). Members of this oligarchy were e.g. Momir Bulatovic, Svetozar Marovic and most certainly also Milo Đukanović(see Banovic 2016). Đukanovićremained the dominant force since then and has changed his political allies and orientation that “(t)oday, he’s a leading voice for EU and NATO integration” (Rujevic 2016).
The campaign for the 2016 parliamentary elections was consequently described as choice between two directions: 1) EU membership with NATO Integration and thus a clear orientation towards the West or 2) to become once again a “Russian Colony”, as Đukanovićdramatically put it in one of his pre-election rallies (see for reports e.g. Deutsche Welle 2016). This harsh contrast provides a clear choice that does not necessarily exist beyond the electoral campaign and the blurry lines of everyday politics. And even more importantly, it diverts the attention of the citizens.
The way towards the West and the possible accession of NATO is a difficult topic for Montenegro: (U)p until 1997, Montenegro shared Serbia’s fate under the authoritarian Miloševićregime“( Banovic 2016, 290, see also Vujadinović 2002, 14). This fate included also the shared experience of the NATO bombings on the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Hence, neither the economic development in Montenegro nor the level of corruption were an important topic in the campaign as one would expect. One further reason for this obvious neglect of a serious evaluation of the political development of Montenegro is the division among oppositional forces. A 3% threshold is necessary to gain parliamentary representation and 34 parties (RFE/RL 2016) were competing in this parliamentary election.
Within this context, on October 17, Montenegro elected a new parliament. The arrest of allegedly Serbian paramilitaries on election day was only one of various events that arguably influenced the election. Some of these event, like the arrest, looked from the outside sometimes as propaganda moves by the government to gain support for its course toward the West. On an important side note: Serbian influence on Montenegrin politics is a very sensible topic and as author I would like to make it clear that any assessment of the substance of these motivations behind the arrests is not possible. It is also not clear if this event influenced the election substantially. Several polls – although I could not confirm their reliability – were already showing a significant lead for Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS, Demokratska Partija Socijalista Crne Gore) over the last few months. This expectation was confirmed on Sunday with a 41% majority, which will result in 36 seats in parliament (RFE/RL 2016) for DPS. This result forces the DPS to form a coalition government and include one of the opposition forces to gain the absolute majority in the 81-seat parliament.
But the opposition is reluctant to accept the results of the election and questions its fairness. They accuse government that the arrests in the morning of the Election Day were made merely for propaganda. Another serious issue – that goes right to the core of democratic elections and free speech – was the blocking of Viber and What’sApp on Election Day. This was also part of the concerns described by the OECD observation team. This team declared that the 2016 parliamentary election was “held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected” (Stojanovic 2016). But members of the observation team – foremost Marietje Schaake (member of EU parliament) criticized the limitation of freedom of speech by blocking main tools to communicate (Stojanovic 2016). As the official report of the OECD will only be published in a few weeks, it remains unclear how substantiated the claims of electoral manipulation are. But, one thing is for sure; these claims will not make the coalition building for Đukanovićand the DPS easier.
Banović, Damir (2016): Montenegro, in: Fruhstorfer, Anna, and Michael Hein (eds): Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, 289-306.
Deutsche Welle (2016): Montenegro’s longtime ruler faces ballot test (October 16), in: http://www.dw.com/en/montenegros-longtime-ruler-faces-ballot-test/a-36052927 [last accessed October 18, 2016]
RFE/RL (2016): Montenegro’s Opposition Refuses To Recognize Pro-West Party’s Election Win (October 16), in: http://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-russia-west/28056584.html [last accessed October 18, 2016]
Rujevic, Nemanja (2016): Election in Montenegro: For Milo, against Milo (October 14), in: Deutsche Welle, http://www.dw.com/en/election-in-montenegro-for-milo-against-milo/a-36045962 [last accessed October 18, 2016]
Prime Minister Montenegro (2016): Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic – Biography, in: http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/primeminister/Prime_Minister_s_biography [last accessed October 16, 2016.]
Stojanovic, Dusan (2016): WhatsApp, Viber blocked during Montenegro election day (October 17), in: http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/world/article/Opposition-claims-major-irregularities-in-9975486.php [last accessed October 19, 2016]
Vujadinović, Dragica. 2002. “Predgovor.” In Između autoritarizma i demokratije. Edited by Edited by Dragica Vujadinović, Veljak Lino, Vladimir Goati and Vladimir Pavićević, 9–17. Beograd: Cedet.
Vukičević, Boris, and Vujović, Zlatko (2012): Ustavni i političkopravni okvir parlamenta u Crnoj Gori 1989–2012, in: Demokratske performance parlamenata Srbije, Bosne i Hercegovine i Crne Gore. Edited by Slaviša Orlović, 55–76. Podgorica/Beograd/Sarajevo: Faculty for Political Sciencies in Belgrade, Sarajevo Open Centre and Faculty for Political Sciencies in Podgorica.