Montenegro held its most recent elections on August 31. Montenegro, which gained independence from Serbia in 2006, is a country of roughly 620,000 people in the Balkans. It is ethnically diverse: 45% identify as Montenegrin, 29% as Serbs, 12% as Bosniaks/Muslims, and 5% as Albanians.
The country is a parliamentary republic. The unicameral Parliament has 81 seats elected by closed-list proportional representation in a single nationwide constituency with a 3% threshold. Ethnic minorities which make up less than 15% of the population (i.e. excluding Serbs) have a lower threshold, 0.7%, for a maximum of three seats. There’s a separate exemption for Croats; if none of their lists get over 0.7% then their list with the most votes gets one seat provided it got more than 0.35%.
Montenegro’s Dominant Party
Đukanović and the DPS
Milo Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which succeeded the local communist party branch, has been in power since 1991. Đukanović has been President since the 2018 Montenegro elections and he’s served either as Prime Minister or President of Montenegro since 1991 with brief exceptions. Đukanović, a young communist apparatchik, first rose to power as an ally of Milošević during the “anti-bureaucratic revolution” alongside Momir Bulatović and Svetozar Marović. He initially supported Milošević during the Yugoslav Wars.
After 1997, Đukanović distanced himself from Milošević and his erstwhile ally President Momir Bulatović. Đukanović gained control of the DPS and narrowly defeated Bulatović in the 1997 presidential election. Thereafter, Đukanović moved closer to the west (receiving precious financial aid from the US and EU in exchange) and later began pushing for Montenegrin independence. He gradually severed ties with Serbia as part of a policy of “creeping independence”. This culminated in the successful 2006 independence referendum.
The ideologically vacuous and chameleonic DPS has won every election since 1990. With its control over the bureaucracy, state resources, security services, clientelistic patronage networks, and influence over the economy, it has cemented its domination of the country. Đukanović and the DPS have been accused of corruption, nepotism, authoritarianism, state capture, abuse of power, and ties to organized crime.
He is famously alleged to have been involved in tobacco smuggling with the Italian mafia during the 1990s. However, an Italian court dropped the case in 2009. Đukanović, his brother, and other relatives have amassed millions of dollars thanks to business deals. Đukanović’s brother Aco is the main owner of one of Montenegro’s largest banks. It was bailed out by the government in 2008; there is no proof the bailout loan was ever repaid.
The government has been actively seeking out foreign investment, particularly in shady real estate deals along the coastline. It has a lucrative “citizenship-by-investment” program – suspended in 2010 but recreated in 2019 – granting citizenship in return for investments in development projects (€250,000) and a government fee of €100,000. Prominent beneficiaries of this controversial program include former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (who deposited some money in the bank owned by Đukanović’s brother) and controversial Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan. In 2015, Đukanović was named “Person of the Year” by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative journalists.
The DPS has, rather successfully, claimed the mantle of defender of Montenegrin sovereignty. It has pushed a pro-European, pro-NATO, and anti-Serbian agenda. Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017. It officially received EU candidate status in December 2010, and accession negotiations started in June 2012. Montenegrin politics are polarized and the opposition forces have been weakened by their internal divisions and instability. Opposition boycotts of Parliament have become commonplace since 2015.
Montenegro has been rated as “partly free” in Freedom in the World reports since 2016. The latest report emphasized the DPS’ grip on power, widespread and unchecked corruption and cronyism, harassment of opposition politicians, pressures and threats against journalists and NGOs, and a weakening of judicial independence. Freedom House now also considers Montenegro as a “hybrid regime”, down from “semi-consolidated democracy”.
The 2016 Montenegro Elections
The last elections in Montenegro were held in 2016, following protests against Đukanović’s government in the fall of 2015. The DPS remained the largest party, with 36 seats and 41% of the vote. On election day, 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens were arrested and later charged – along with two Russian GRU agents – for plotting an attempted coup d’état. The foiled coup attempt, which involved plans to assassinate Đukanović, was later described by Montenegrin authorities as a plot by the pro-Russian opposition – allegedly with Russia’s involvement – to prevent NATO accession.
Among those charged were two opposition politicians, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, both members of the Democratic Front (DF), and Bratislav Dikić (former commander of the Serbian Gendarmery). 13 defendants, including both Russian operatives (tried in absentia) and both opposition politicians, were found guilty in May 2019. Mandić and Knežević were sentenced to 5 years in jail. The 2020 Freedom in the World report said that “legal procedures surrounding the trial were chaotic and opaque, several witnesses recanted testimony, and many details of the alleged plot remained murky after the trial closed with numerous convictions”.
The Old Government
Following the 2016 Montenegro elections, the DPS’s deputy president Duško Marković – former head of the National Security Agency (2005-2010) and Minister of Justice (2010-2016) – became prime minister. His coalition held a bare majority of seats (42 out of 81).
His coalition includes the Social Democrats (SD) and the Albanian, Bosniak, and Croatian minority parties. Alleging electoral fraud and protesting the coup plot arrests, all 39 opposition MPs boycotted Parliament until 2018. In April 2018, Milo Đukanović was elected President with 53.9% of the vote in the first round. His closest rival, Mladen Bojanić, won 33.4% and was supported by most of the opposition parties.
As detailed by Balkan Insight, Prime Minister Duško Marković’s record is unimpressive. While he promised to promote dialogue with the opposition, civil society, NGOs, and the media and pledged that the government wouldn’t interfere with the media’s editorial policy, polarization has worsened and the government has shown itself to be intolerant of criticism. Freedom of the press is under constant attack and pressure. The public broadcaster, RTCG, remains under the control of the DPS.
In 2016, Marković set the ambitious goal of closing all chapters of Montenegro’s EU accession negotiations by the end of 2019. Today, accession talks seem to be at a standstill, with only three chapters provisionally closed (one more than in 2016). According to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report, the government in practice “only simulates the process of reform while remaining focused on using the state apparatus to achieve DPS political interests”. Relations with Serbia and Russia are at a low-point. During the election campaign, the Russian foreign ministry complained about an escalation of Russophobia by the Montenegrin authorities.
Corruption in Montenegro
Corruption is a major issue in Montenegro, and the country has failed to establish a solid track record. In early 2019, businessman and former regime insider Duško Knežević released secret video recordings – and later audio recordings and documents – implicating senior politicians in bribery and corruption scandals. One video showed Knežević handing an envelope containing €97,000 to Slavoljub Stijepović, former mayor of Podgorica and current advisor to the president, to fund the DPS’s 2016 campaign. Having fled to London, Knežević told the media that he had been providing such bribes for 25 years.
Another video showed a senior official from the central bank asking for a bribe for not sending inspectors to one of Knežević’s banks. The “envelope affair” also implicated Ivica Stanković, the top state prosecutor, and Vesna Medenica, the president of the Supreme Court. The explosive revelations of the “envelope affair” inspired a wave of citizen-led, grassroots anti-government protests, supported by all opposition parties. The protesters demanded the resignation of the government and President Đukanović. They also demanded the formation of a technical government to organize free and fair elections. The government claimed the protests aimed to destabilize the country. The protests eventually lost momentum and gradually dissipated by the summer of 2019.
A Controversial Law
In December 2019, the Parliament adopted a controversial “religious freedom law” amid fierce objections from the Serbian Orthodox Church and most opposition parties (most notably the pro-Serbian ones). Around 72% of Montenegrins are Orthodox, and most belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. A smaller number supports the rival Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not canonically recognized. Relations between the DPS government and the Serbian Church have been tense, particularly as the Metropolitan of Montenegro, Amfilohije (Radović), is a Serbian nationalist who opposed independence in 2006. The DPS program adopted at its last party congress in 2019 added as a goal the “renewal” of the rival Montenegrin Orthodox Church.
The religious freedom law creates a register of religious objects and sites owned by the formerly independent kingdom of Montenegro before 1918. It requires religious communities to provide clear evidence of ownership in order to retain their properties, which the Serbian Orthodox Church claims will allow the state to confiscate its assets. The government has denied having any designs over church properties. However, its insistence at pushing the controversial law through parliament despite mass protests and chaotic scenes inside Parliament.
Large demonstrations, led by Serbian Orthodox priests and believers and gathering tens of thousands of people, continued across Montenegro in January, February, and March 2020. The protests were largely peaceful, but there were incidents of police brutality against protesters with beatings and arrests. In February, Metropolitan Amfilohije and Prime Minister Marković met to discuss the law. The church demanded that the law be amended or repealed entirely, a non-starter for the government. Đukanović has been far less conciliatory, calling the protests a “lunatic movement” and claiming that the protesters were destabilizing the country and threatening its “secular, multi-ethnic” character. Đukanović also warned members of his own party against participating in the protests under threat of expulsion.
The protests stopped in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a ban on public gatherings. However, several Orthodox priests were placed in custody for 72 hours between March and June for leading religious processions or holding religious services in violation of the government’s public health measures. Others, like Metropolitan Amfilohije, were called in for questioning by the police. In May, Bishop Joanikije of Budimlja and Nikšić was detained for leading a religious procession on St. Vasilije’s Day with thousands of people. Protests resumed as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted in June. The government responded by once again banning open-air religious gatherings in late June and blaming the opposition parties, Serbian Orthodox clergy, and the neighbouring countries of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for a spike in new cases in late June and early July. Human rights groups and the Serbian Orthodox Church criticized these new restrictions.
Tensions with Serbia
The religious freedom law has also further worsened already tense relations with Serbia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić expressed concerns about the “difficult situation” of Serbs in Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church. Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić said that the Montenegrin government should discuss the law with its citizens. He criticized Montenegro’s “anti-Serb politics” and called on Montenegrins in Serbia to publicly state their views. He also called into question the Serbian citizenship of those who supported the Montenegrin government.
The protests spread to Serbia, and in early January football fans and Serbian far-right groups protested in front of the Montenegrin embassy in Belgrade, setting off fireworks that partially burned the flag of Montenegro outside the embassy. Montenegro protested that its embassy had allegedly been left unguarded by Serbian police, a claim denied by Vučić and the Serbian foreign ministry. The Serbian member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, said that the law was an act of hostility against the Serbian people. The law was also criticized by the Russian foreign ministry, which said that it infringed on the interests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church voiced its support for the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Negotiations between the Church and the government resumed in July but ended in deadlock. The Church accused the government of using the dialogue to improve its image before the elections. Indeed, the DPS sought to use the protests to fuel divisive identity politics ahead of the elections.
As protests continued, Đukanović accused the Serbian Orthodox Church and the main opposition coalition of undermining Montenegrin statehood. He painted the elections as a choice between Montenegro becoming a “theocratic state” or continuing on the path of EU integration. The Serbian Orthodox Church also called on people to vote against the “lawless” and Metropolitan Amfilohije voted for the first time in his life.
Parties and Coalitions
The incumbent DPS ran alone, with Andrija Popović’s small Liberal Party getting a spot on the list.
The Main Opposition Coalition
The main opposition coalition was For the Future of Montenegro (ZBCG), a big-tent though predominantly conservative and pro-Serbian alliance. The coalition is made up of the Democratic Front (DF), the Socialist People’s Party (SNP), and the Popular Movement. It was also supported by the Serb National Council of Montenegro, the main NGO representing Serbs in Montenegro. The coalition was endorsed by Svetozar Marović, a former Đukanović ally and the last President of Serbia and Montenegro. He was arrested in 2016 as part of a major corruption case in his hometown of Budva but later fled to Belgrade. He since has accused his former party of corruption, nepotism, and authoritarianism.
Because of the proximity of some of its members to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and his party (the SNS), ZBCG was sometimes dubbed (by its critics) “Vučić’s List”. ZBCG was led by Zdravko Krivokapić, a professor of mechanical engineering who entered politics in 2019 during the anti-corruption protests and the religious protests. The DPS accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of interfering in politics and of directly supporting the coalition.
The DF’s Internal Politics
The DF is itself an alliance made up of Andrija Mandić’s New Serb Democracy (NOVA), Milan Knežević’s Democratic People’s Party (DNP), Nebojša Medojević’s Movement for Changes (PzP), and True Montenegro. It was the strongest opposition bloc in the last two elections, getting around 20-22% of the vote both times.
The DF is right-wing, pro-Serbian and pro-Russian. Both NOVA and DNP represent the interests of the Serb community in Montenegro and enjoy close ties to Vučić’s SNS in Serbia as well as the Kremlin (and both would, in theory, support reunification with Serbia). It voted against joining NATO and was the most vocal in their opposition to the religious freedom law. 17 of their MPs were briefly arrested for violently disrupting the final vote in Parliament and some of their leaders using inflammatory and bellicose rhetoric. Both Mandić and Knežević were allegedly part of the 2016 ‘coup attempt’, for which they were found guilty in 2019.
- The PzP began as a mainstream centre-right party but has evolved into a far-right vehicle – aligned with Steve Bannon’s “The Movement” – for the mad rants of its lunatic leader, Nebojša Medojević, who appears to believe in every single anti-Semitic/George Soros/deep state/Q-Anon conspiracy theory to be found on the internet (predictably, he is a big fan of Donald Trump). Most notably, Medojević thinks that COVID-19 is a plot of the Satanists and deep state pedophiles to topple Trump.
- The SNP was initially founded in 1998 by Momir Bulatović following the split in the DPS. However, but Bulatović, still a Milošević loyalist, was kicked out of the party in 2001 and the party became more moderate and pro-European. It has performed poorly since independence, and in 2016 – running with pro-European opposition parties in the ‘Key Coalition’ – it won just 3 seats. The SNP was allegedly pressured by Belgrade to join forces with the DF in a single, pro-Serbian opposition coalition.
- The People’s Movement is an alliance of minor parties and independents initiated by controversial Belgrade-based Montenegrin businessman Miodrag “Daka” Davidović, one of the main financial backers of the opposition.
Other Opposition Coalitions
- Peace is our Nation (MNN) described itself as a civic (non-ethnic), pro-European moderate (liberal) grouping opposed to extremism and nationalism. It accused the DPS of inciting hatred and unrest with the religious freedom law. The coalition is led by Aleksa Bečić’s Democrats (DCG) and also includes DEMOS, two small parties without parliamentary representation, and independent liberal politician Vladimir Pavićević. Bečić’s Democrats was created from a split in the SNP in 2015. It won 10% of the vote and 8 seats in 2016, finishing fourth. DEMOS was founded in 2015 by Miodrag Lekić, former leader of the DF in 2012 and the opposition’s common candidate in the 2013 presidential election (which he narrowly lost to DPS incumbent Filip Vujanović, 51.2% to 48.8%, amid accusations of electoral fraud).
- “Black and White” was led by the socially liberal centre-left United Reform Action (URA) and included various members of civil society, academics, activists, journalists as well as the small Justice and Reconciliation Party (SPP) led by the Chief Mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia Muamer Zukorlić (a member of the Serbian Parliament). URA defines itself as pro-European, civic (non-ethnic), and secular. The party, led by Dritan Abazović, was founded in 2015. In the 2016 election, it ran with the SNP and DEMOS in the “Key Coalition”, which finished third. The coalition’s goals included strengthening independent institutions, establishing the rule of law by fighting corruption and organized crime, economic reform (against crony capitalism), education reform, healthcare reform, environmental protection, and sustainable development.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP), founded in 1993 by anti-Milošević Montenegrin nationalists, was the traditional junior partner of Đukanović’s DPS between 1998 and 2016, running as part of the DPS-led coalition in every election from 1998 to 2012. The party’s then-leader, Ranko Krivokapić, served as president of the Parliament between 2003 and 2016. In early 2016, however, the SDP – which had become increasingly critical of the DPS on issues like media freedom, corruption, the privatization of the electricity transmission system operator and the lease of a luxury coastal resort to foreign investors – finally split with its old senior partner and voted against the government in a confidence vote in January 2016 (which the DPS survived with the support of Positive Montenegro, an hitherto opposition party).
Krivokapić was ousted by the DPS as president of the Parliament. However, three SDP MPs – including two cabinet ministers – split from the SDP and created the Social Democrats (SD), which remained loyal to the DPS. In the 2016 election, the SDP won 5.2% and 4 seats, while the SD won 3.3% and 2 seats. The SD joined the Marković cabinet, with two cabinet portfolios (education and health) and the party’s leader Ivan Brajović as president of Parliament.
The SDP is still viewed with suspicion by the other opposition parties – not fully trusting their new anti-DPS bona fides. Unlike the three other opposition lists which focused all their attacks on the DPS, the SDP’s campaign also attacked the other opposition lists – it refused to work with parties which question Montenegrin independence and branding ZBCG chauvinistic clerico-nationalists close to Serbia.
Despite pleas from the Albanian diaspora for them to unite on a single list, there were, as in the 2016 Montenegro elections, two separate Albanian minority coalitions. The Albanian List was made up of the New Democratic Force (FORCA), the Albanian Alternative (AA), the Albanian Coalition “Perspective”, and the Democratic Alliance of Albanians. The list was led by Nik Gjeloshaj, the mayor of Tuzi – the newest municipality in Montenegro, with an Albanian majority. In the 2019 local elections in Tuzi, Nik Gjeloshaj’s Albanian Forum list won half the seats. They formed the government without the DPS.
The Albanian Coalition – “Unanimously” was made up of the Democratic Union of Albanians (DUA), the Democratic Party (DP), and the Democratic League in Montenegro (DSCG). The list was led by DP leader and former mayor of Ulcinj, Fatmir Gjeka. In the 2016 Montenegro elections, only one Albanian list – made up of FORCA, AA, and DUA – won a seat. The DUA’s Mehmet Zenka was minister of human and minority rights in the outgoing cabinet. FORCA’s Genci Nimanbegu was one of the three vice presidents of Parliament. Except for 2012-16, an Albanian party has been in the government of Montenegro since the 1998 elections.
The Albanian minority parties were at the centre of controversy during the campaign as the opposition accused them and the DPS of attempting to rig the election by helping ethnic Albanians living abroad to travel back to the country to vote. The constitution grants voting rights to adult citizens with at least two years of residence in Montenegro, but Montenegrin citizens who lived abroad are still on the voter roll. The DF warned that it would report people who live abroad and vote in Montenegro to the countries in which they live. The DPS denied the allegations, but the opposition and civil society groups have long claimed that the DPS has kept diaspora voters on the rolls because they’re perceived as reliable DPS voters. There are 52,000 more registered voters than adults in Montenegro.
The Bosniaks and Croats
The Bosniak Party was formed in 2006 by the merger of different Bosniak and Muslim parties. It is led by Rafet Husović, who has been in government since 2009 and one of the Deputy Prime Ministers (in charge of regional development) since 2012. In the Marković cabinet, the BS held two other portfolios – transport and maritime affairs, and labour and social welfare.
There were two Croatian lists this year, endangering the single seat held by the small Croatian minority (less than 1% of the population). The Croatian Civic Initiative (HGI), formed in 2002, has held one seat in Parliament since 2006. It ran as part of the DPS-led coalition in 2006 and 2009 but contested independently in the 2012 and 2016 Montenegro elections. In 2016, with some help from the DPS, it won 1,800 votes (0.47%), enough to retain its one seat. Marija Vučinović was minister without portfolio since 2012. Vučinović and a centrist faction split from the HGI in 2019 and formed the Croatian Reform Party (HRS).
Turnout in the 2020 Montenegro elections was 76.65%, up from 73% in 2016 and the highest turnout since 2001. Turnout was highest in northern municipalities where more people ethnically identify as Serbs. The polarization of the campaign and politics around the religious dispute may have mobilized more voters, particularly opposition voters.
- DPS 35.06% – 30 seats (-6)
- For the Future of Montenegro 32.55% – 27 seats (+6)
- Peace is our Nation 12.53% – 10 seats (-2)
- Black and White (URA) 5.53% – 4 seats (+2)
- SD 4.1% – 3 seats (+1)
- BS 3.98% – 3 seats (+1)
- SDP 3.14% – 2 seats (-2)
- Albanian List 1.53% – 1 seat (nc)
- Albanian Coalition 1.14% – 1 seat (+1)
- HGI 0.27% – 0 seats (-1)
- HRS 0.13% – 0 seats (nc)
The DPS Loses Power
The DPS remained the single largest party. However, with just 35% of the vote, it slumped to its lowest ever vote share. The leading opposition coalition, ZBCG, which overperformed pre-election polling and may have cannibalized some of the other opposition lists’ votes, won 32.6%, the highest vote share for a single opposition coalition since the 2002 election. The outgoing coalition – made up of the DPS, SD, Bosniaks and Albanians – won 37 seats. This was down from 41 in the last Parliament. The Croatian vote was split, with none of their two lists getting over their special threshold of 0.35%. They therefore lost the seat. The opposition parties, for the first time ever, won a majority of seats – 43, or 41 excluding the SDP which has tense relations with the three other opposition coalitions.
The DPS won about 143,500 votes. It lost 15,000 votes compared to 2016 and fell significantly below its traditional range of support (usually between 155,000 to 170,000 votes). Most of those votes were lost to the opposition parties, not its traditional coalition allies. The SDP lost over 7,000 votes and the SD gained about 3,800. The three opposition lists won about 207,200 votes compared to 158,000 for the three main opposition lists in 2016. Many analysts agree that the conflict with the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as corruption scandals and perhaps the difficult economic situation,vpushed many DPS voters and fence-sitters to support the opposition.
The DPS narrowly won the most votes in the capital and largest city, Podgorica, with 34.3% against 33.4% for ZBCG (and 16.1% for MNN). It also narrowly came first in Nikšić, the second largest city and Đukanović’s hometown, taking 38.5% to 37.5% for ZBCG.
The opposition also claimed victory in four of the five municipalities holding local elections: Andrijevica, Budva, Kotor and Tivat. In Budva, the opposition’s victory comes after the former opposition mayor Marko Carević (DF) and the head of the council were arrested in June after losing his majority in the local council and refusing to hand over power to a new DPS-led administration.
Now, Carević’s list won over 40% of the vote against just 31% for the DPS. It will hold a large majority in the local council with the support of other opposition lists. In Kotor, although the DPS placed first, the opposition parties have a majority and will regain control of the city, which they held until 2019 when the DPS (with the support of the SDP) ousted them from power.
Montenegro’s Next Government
Both the DPS and the opposition initially declared victory following the 2020 Montenegro elections, although the DPS was far more subdued and cautious. Indeed, the DPS has no realistic path to forming another government. Even if it was to get the SDP back onboard, its coalition would hold 40 seats. The three opposition lists (ZBCG, MNN, URA) had refused to work with the DPS. Shortly after the election, they announced the formation of a coalition technocratic ‘experts government’.
The Opposition Unites
The three leaders – Krivokapić, Bečić and Abazović – agreed on four principles for a new government:
- Fulfillment of international obligations (NATO membership)
- Acceleration of the EU accession process
- The formation of an experts government
- Commitment to the constitution and the amendment of discriminatory laws (the religious freedom law).
Milan Knežević, leader of the anti-NATO pro-Serbian DNP, admitted that withdrawal from NATO is impossible. Krivokapić, leader of ZBCG, has stated that European integration will be a priority but that the new government will also improve relations with Serbia and Russia.
On September 9, the three opposition parties formalized that agreement. In addition to previous commitments, they also announced that their new government would not seek to change Montenegro’s national symbols or withdraw diplomatic recognition from Kosovo. The opposition leaders called for reconciliation and invited the ethnic minority parties (Bosniak and Albanian) to support them. However, the Bosniak and Albanian parties initially refused, ostensibly because the opposition is anti-NATO and pro-Serbia/Russia. Later, the Bosniak Party seemed to backtrack a bit when it appeared open to working with a new ‘pro-European’ governments led by the Democrats (the dominant party in the MNN coalition).
The SDP has also refused to join the new government. It claims the government will be pro-Serbian and lashed out at URA for ‘selling out’ and working with anti-NATO, pro-Serbian/Russian parties.
Celebrations Turn Violent
Massive celebrations in Podgorica and elsewhere in Montenegro after the vote turned violent, and opposition supporters clashed with DPS supporters. There were cases of ethnic provocations against Bosniaks and Albanians. The leaders of the opposition called on their supporters and strongly condemned acts of violence. They accused the DPS of staging conflict and inciting hatred.
On September 2, the windows of the Islamic Community building in Pljevlja (a predominantly Serb municipality in northern Montenegro with a small Bosniak/Muslim minority) were smashed. A note was left saying that “Pljevlja will be Srebrenica”. All opposition leaders and the Serbian Orthodox Church have condemned the attack in Pljevlja. The deputy leader of the Democrats and the leader of URA met with the imam of Pljevlja, while Krivokapić vowed to defend mosques and other places of worship.
The Future of Đukanović
Đukanović conceded defeat and said that it was possible that the DPS lost support due to unhappiness with some policies. He largely blamed his party’s defeat on Belgrade, claiming that there had been manipulations and disinformation about the religious freedom law by Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church. He said that Montenegro had faced “strong political and media aggression” from Belgrade since the law was adopted. Đukanović accused Vučić of interfering in other countries’ internal politics and trying to revive “Greater Serbia nationalist politics”. He also condemned the post-election violence in Montenegro, holding the opposition responsible for what he considered “an outburst of intolerance”.
Đukanović is still President, and his term in office will only end following the 2023 Montenegro elections. It is constitutionally possible, though difficult, for the Parliament to impeach the president. It would require the Constitutional Court to find that the president has violated the constitution. The president’s powers in domestic politics are limited, with most powers in the hands of the Parliament and the government. The DPS fears that, removed from office, it will be severely weakened. It is already reported that Milica Pejanović-Đurišić, the current ambassador to the UN and one of the main historical figures of the DPS, will leave the party and create her own party
The new government will face major challenges, even beyond the task of economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic-recession faced by other governments. It needs to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption and organized crime and improve Montenegro’s democratic institutions. The new government also needs to reduce polarization, by reducing the salience of identity politics and nationalist disputes. Finally, it needs to adopt the reforms necessary to speed up the EU accession process which seems to be stalled.
The problem is that the new government will be made up of parties and coalitions which have differing views on these issues. The DF played identity politics and used divisive nationalist rhetoric while the liberal parties (MNN, URA) claim to be civic parties strongly opposed to nationalist politics. Most parties in the ZBCG coalition are pro-Serbian and pro-Russian, while their new liberal partners are strongly in favour of European integration.