President Mr Djukanovic, shakes hands with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini . EUROPEAN COMMISSION/SAVO PRELEVIC

President Mr Djukanovic, shakes hands with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini . EUROPEAN COMMISSION/SAVO PRELEVIC

Election Elections in Montenegro: Balkans’ longstanding ruler is back

Now he has the possibility to prove his true political colours. A political survivor and strongman like Mr Djukanović, controlling power on all levels, need to be serious when continuing democratic reforms, otherwise he will be ever more accused of trying to build a (semi-) authoritarian platform like so many other Balkan leaders before him.

Published on balticworlds.com on juli 4, 2018

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Background

Montenegro’s third presidential election since independence in 2006 were held on April 15th 2018.  The elections were won in the first round by the ever-present Mr Milo Djukanović who had claimed to have left politics before the parliamentary elections in November 2016, which were won by his party the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS.

Mr Djukanović is a highly divisive figure in Montenegrin politics and has been at the helm as either Prime Minster or President since the first multiparty elections after communism in 1991. He has been a political chameleon, moving from being a close ally to Mr Slobodan Milošević to the front runner for independence and membership of the EU and NATO.

Mr Djukanović has also been accused numerous times of corruption and involvement in organized crime, including being investigated, and acquitted, by Italian authorities for involvement with organized crime groups dealing with cigarette smuggling.

Mr Djukanović’s ability to shift political path has kept him at power longest of all Balkan post-communist leaders, and he has increasingly taken a pro-EU and NATO stand. The opposition against him is predominantly representing the part of the population which feels more aligned with Serbia and Russia, and as such opposes membership of the Euro-Atlantic structures and the EU. This has put the international community in a somewhat difficult position. Wanting to support the pro-Western, pro-democracy forces, their main candidate is Mr Djukanović. He represents stability and slow, but albeit progressing reform towards EU and NATO membership. In fact, Montenegro became members of NATO during 2017, and is currently negotiating for an EU-membership.

The political forces that challenge him and loudly accuses him for foul play are openly advocating for a foreign policy far away from NATO and the EU, leaning towards Serbia and in particular Russia.

The tensions between the two political camps became very clear during the parliamentary elections in 2016, not long before Montenegro was about to ratify the NATO membership treaty. The opposition claimed that if they won the elections, a referendum on NATO-membership would be held. The parliamentary elections thus became to a large extent a vote on Montenegro’s future foriegn policy alignments. The elections were quite tumultuous, with an alleged coup orchestrated by Russian and Serbian elements, attempting to kill Mr Djukanović. Eventually the pro-NATO and pro-EU camp won, led by Mr Djukanović’s DPS, and taken toghether they even advanced their positions.

Electing Mr Djukanović as president in the first round confirms not only his power but also the geopolitical choices he has made over the years.

The contenders

Seven candidates were registered, including the first woman to ever run for office in the country. The registration of the candidates was surrounded by some secrecy, in particular regarding the opposition candidates. Some analysts argued that this was because they waited to see whether Mr Djukanović would stand for the elections or not, while others pointed out that the opposition parties very likely had difficulties to agree whether to propose one common candidate, and whom. In the end, they did not come up with a common candidate, although Mr Bojanić was supported by a group of opposition parties.

The incumbent President, Mr Filip Vujanović (belonging to the ruling party Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS) was ineligible after having served two terms as president, thus leaving it open for Mr Djukanović to become their candidate.

Mr Djukanović’s main contender was Mr Mladen Bojanić, being backed by a handful of opposition parties but not all.

The first ever female candidate, Ms Draginja Vuksanović, is a law professor and is an MP for the Social Democratic Party, SDP, a former governing partner of the DPS.

Election procedure

The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission writes that ”fundamental freedoms were respected” in the election, and that the election day ”generally proceeded in an orderly manner”.[1] However, many observers reported concerns over the institutional advantage enjoyed by Mr Djukanović, being the candidate of the governing party, and thus being able to lean towards the state and its resources.

It is rare to read about elections in the Western Balkans without reports of problems with the voters lists, lack of transparency of the state election commission, political pressure on state employees and poor or biased journalistic coverage. Montenegro’s presidential election was no exemption, just like the parliamentary elections in 2016.

It is difficult to assess whether these alleged irregularities have a real effect on the electoral result, individually or taken together, but they are an expression of disregard of the rule of law and electoral integrity which needs to be addressed if Montenegro wants to develop into a trustworthy society.

Results

As already stated, Mr Djukanović won an absolute majority already in the first round, securing 53,9% of the vote.[2] Also the outgoing President Vujanović had won his two terms in office in the first round, with just over 51% of the vote.

Mr Bojanić won 35,5% and Ms Vuksanović came third with 8,2% of the votes.

Aftermath

After the presidential elections the governing DPS confirmed its power on the national level, holding both the office of the president and being the biggest governing party just short of absolute majority in Parliament. And only a few weeks later on 20 and 27 May, 12 out of the total 23 municipalities in the country held local elections, including the capital Podgorica. The DPS won in ten of the 12 municipalities, either by themselves or in a coalition with others. They had already won in two other municipalities in February the same year. As such, they are in charge in a majority of Montenegrin municipalities and thus hold the power at all three levels in society.

The local elections in May were ridden with accusations of electoral irregularities, and there were reports about violence, including four opposition candidates being injured at a polling station outside Podgorica.[3]

Violence and irregularities are expressions of not only how important an election is in terms of power and being able to distribute benefits as they see fit, but also that there is low trust in the electoral system and between the political contenders in general. This has to be dealt with and taken seriously by the government, now when it has secured its power on all levels.

A political survivor and strongman like Mr Djukanović, controlling power on all levels, need to be serious when continuing democratic reforms, otherwise he will be ever more accused of trying to build a (semi-) authoritarian platform like so many other Balkan leaders before him. Being member of NATO and negotiating for an EU-membership is not enough. Now he has the possibility to prove his true political colours.

References

[1] OSCE/ODIHR ”Montenegro Presidential Election 15 April 2018, ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report” 28 June 2018 https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/montenegro/386127?download=true

[2] Montenegrin State Election Commission http://dik.co.me/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/konacni-za-objavu.pdf

[3] BalkanInsight 28 May 2018, ”Montenegro’s ruling party wins local elections”, at http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/montenegro-s-ruling-party-wins-local-elections-05-28-2018

  • by Jessica Giandomenico

    PhD in political science at Uppsala Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests focus on the Western Balkans, EU foreign policy, power theory, elections, and social transformation.

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    Baltic Worlds is commenting on the parliamentary and presidential elections taking place in countries around the Baltic Sea region and in Eastern Europe. The comments and analyses present the parties, the candidates and the main issues of the election, as well as analyze the implications of the results.

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    Contact: sofie.bedford@ucrs.uu.se