Elections in Montenegro - between protests and dialogue

Nine years after the restoration of independence and three years after opening EU accession negotiations, the key debate in Montenegro still  revolves around the organisation of fair and democratic elections.

Twenty five years after its first multiparty elections, Montenegro has not yet experienced a democratic change of its government. To best describe this scenrario the famous Lineker's football quote can be paraphrased to be read as: Elections in Montenegro are the game with many players in which the Democratic Party of Socialists wins by default.

The election processes and cycles, out of which the DPS has regularly emerged as a winner, have been followed by the voicing of serious doubts in regards to the regularity of these political competitions. The allegations coming from both the oppositions benches and the critical media ranged from buying votes and IDs all the way to offering jobs and councillors' positions.These irregularities have to a certain extent found their place in the international reports  of the EU and GRECO.

These allegations have reached their peak with the "Audio recording" affair which, despite the persistent insistence, has not yet resulted in the establishment of political responsibility.

In 2015 the publicly demanded insistence on improving the conditions for fair and democratic elections culminated with the organization of protests throughout September and October. Simultaneously, this year saw even intra-party dynamics experiencing turbulence.

Political divisions in Montenegro are still positioned along the lines of the referendum (2006) blocs. On one hand, the opposition is composed of almost ninety percent of the political parties that were at that time opposed to independence, while on the other hand the government is composed one hundred of percent parties that supported independence. While all parties in the government support Montenegrin membership to NATO and Kosovo's independence, almost ninety percent of those from the opposition are against both processes. While all parties in power insist that the decision on NATO membership should be made within the Parliament, the opposition, almost in its entirety, insists on a direct decision made through a referendum.

The pre-election year of 2015 (regular elections have to be held before September of the following year)  saw the intensification of political dynamics and processes  within both the ruling coalition and the opposition structure. Firstly, the crisis in the political relations between DPS and SDP has culminated with the win, by a narrow margin, of Ranko Krivokapic (incumbent leader of SDP and the Speaker of the Parliament of Montenegro) at the SDP Congress. Consequently, following the SDP Congress, the defeated intra-party faction founded a new party, the "Social Democrats of Montenegro", whose leadership now consists of both current Government ministers and several MPs.

In September, the SDP reqested that the DPS comply with the coalition agreement and "return" two ministerial positions to its coalition partner. However after the refusal of Djukanovic, the leader of DPS, to do so, Krivokapic, the leaders of the SDP, has announced the Government to be a "technical" one which now remains existing solely with the aim to obtain the NATO invitation.

For these reasons, the SDP  along with the other opposition parties have not raised a serious motion of no confidence to the Government. Moreover, any future initiatives on this matter are doomed to fail in advance due to the public statements made by Darko Pajovic, the leader of Positive Montenegro Party, in which he declared that his party would support the government should it be called into question. This policy shift of an opposition party was justified by the need of a stable government committed to NATO integration; a process strongly supported by the Positive party, which is one of only three opposition parties to support Montenegrin membership to NATO.

During 2015, the opposition has also undergone several shape-shifting processes through three major changes. Firstly, Miodrag Lekic, who was at the time, the president of the biggest opposition coalition, the Democratic Front (DF), has left the coalition and together with Goran Danilovic, Vice-president of NOVA Party, has founded a new political group called DEMOS.

Secondly, immediately after the Congress of Socialist People's Party, Aleksa Becic, the candidate for the major of Podgorica at the local elections held in 2014, founded a new political party - DEMOCRATS of Montenegro. Lastly, the third major change occured after the split in the Positive party with the various leaders, including Dritan Abazovic, the Positive MP, along with other public figures previously assembled in a vast expert-political group Forum 2010, and the political club "Just Montenegro" which was led by Rade Bojovic (former coordinator of the Movement for independence in the time of the referendum campaign in 2006) founding the political organization - the United ReformAction - URA, led by Zarko Rakcevic (President of SDP 1990 - 2001, Deputy Prime Minister 2001-2002).

According to relevant surveys, DPS, the strongest political group, has continuous support ranging from 40% to 45% of decided voters while the second strongest party has 10% -15% of support (which is currently DEMOS as the strongest opposition party).

After the September 24th protests had ended with clashes between the demonstrators and the police, DF has carried on with the organisation of the public meetings (in Herceg-Novi) followed by the organisation of new protest on  November 15th; held peacefully and non-violently in Podgorica and attended by 3,000 citizens. New protest rallies were announced, while the central message of the DF was clear: dialogue with the Government is only possible if the topic would be the  establishment of an interim government.

Another important part of the opposition (DEMOS, URA and DEMOCRATS), which according to surveys can in combination have up to 30% of voter support, has prior to the protests held in October published a joint declaration. In this declaration among other things, they stated that "elections that would be organized by the DPS, and by the rules of DPS, with a parallel secret service controlled by DPS, media darkness and unanimity of DPS, abuse of state resources, and state authorities by DPS, public enterprises of DPS and dirty money of DPS, will never be even remotely considered as fair and free, nor will we participate in the elections as such and according to the current rules." In early November, the DEMOCRATS (Aleksa Becic) came out with a document entitled "Proposal for the exit of the political crisis" in which they thoroughly identified the problems and constraints on the road to the implementation of fair and democratic elections and also provided suggestions for creating the minimum requirements for their organization. As an additional mechanism for confidence building, they have proposed the creation of an interim government that would consist of non-partisan persons and experts.

In the same time, Ranko Krivokapic, has announced that he will address the leaders of the political parliamentary parties with a formal invitation to establish dialogue. The President of the DPS and the Prime minister has on multiple occassions stated that his party is ready to participate in a dialogue aiming to build trust in the election process. In the Montenegro 2015 Report, the European Commission has pin-pointed that all political parties should re-engage in a constructive political dialogue in the parliament. 

The announced political dialogue will primarily focuse on the possibilities to rapidly implement the mechanisms as stipulated by the relevant electoral legislation, particularly the electronic identification of voters whose application is delayed by more than a year. The most difficult part of the negotiations will certainly be the request of the opposition to establish an interim government,before the election, that would include all political parties, and whose sole task would be to maintain the functioning of institutions, primarily those responsible for controlling the electoral process. It seems that this could be a stepping stone to achieving a sustainable agreement. If such an agreement fails, the opposition parties agree that they would be left with only one choice: to boycott institutions until the organization of joint, coordinated, planned, democratic, mass and non-violent citizens' demonstrations, joint action with unions, student organizations, representatives of civil society and other civic associations. While the opposition invited the EU to assist in the establishment of a dialogue between the two sides, the government insists on the internal character of the problem and dialogue.

The EU should at least carefully follow the dialogue and at some point, if need be, facilitate the process of reaching an agreement  and ensure its sustainability. 

Stevo Muk

Stevo Muk is one of the founders of Podgorica based think tank ”Institute alternative”, and has been the president of its managing board since 2007. Stevo Muk graduated at the Law Faculty and hold MSc degree from the Faculty of Political Sciences.

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