Prime Minister Djukanović

Prime Minister Djukanović

Election Elections in Montenegro The long reign of Milo Djukanović coming to an end?

Although the elections were on the large respecting international standards and fundamental freedoms, the process has showed that Montenegro’s democracy is fragile and deeply divided along two lines, where NATO membership and ultimate geopolitical allegiance is strongly contested. The Montenegrin democracy may face important challenges from within, and is seemingly standing with few defenders among the established political actors.

Published on on January 11, 2017

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The Montenegrin democracy seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. The parliamentary elections on 16 October 2016 have highlighted longstanding political tensions and difficulties and put them in broad daylight, and the message for the Montenegrin democracy is indeed a difficult one.

The campaign was deeply divided along two lines: first that the government under Prime Minister Djukanović stands for the pro-EU and pro-NATO path towards a bright future, and that the opposition is backed by Russia, and second the opposition’s claim that the government is corrupt and abusing its power and needs to be replaced. The opposition is also largely against joining the NATO, remaining angry after the 1999 bombings of Serbia and Montenegro during the Kosovo crisis.

The period leading up to the elections was very tense, with large demonstrations and even violent incidents. Election day saw an apparent plot to kill the Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, a plot which has been widely reported to be orchestrated by (pro-) Russian elements and carried out by Serbs.[1] The opposition denies any plot to destabilise Montenegro, and calls the accusations fabricated.[2]

The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) strengthened its position through these elections, but needed to seek coalition partners to secure a majority to form a new government. It has long been in coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which won 4 seats. However, the SDP left the government in January 2015 after a long period of tension between the two parties[3] and a new partner had to be found in order to remain in government.

The opposition, on the other hand, was apparently too shattered to get together and form a new government and to reach its long standing goal of ousting Mr Djukanović. Internal splits and new party creations have not helped the opposition to unite, not even the parties which carry largely the same agenda.

It took about 6 weeks to agree on a government together with the newly formed SD, a splinter group from the former government partner SDP. In addition the Bosniak Party, the Albanians Decisively coalition and the Croatian Civic Initiative are included, giving it 42 of the 81 seats in Parliament.

The opposition does not recognise the election result, and has decided to boycott the Parliament’s inaugural session and continue to do so, despite international criticism, including from the EU.[4]


The results

2016 was a rather turbulent year for Montenegrin politics, when four new parties were born out of the already existing ones, and MPs changing allegiance within the Parliament, which makes direct comparison of electoral results somewhat difficult. To complicate the comparison, also the composition of coalitions have changed. But nevertheless, the results are as follows, with incomplete figures from 2012 to give a broader picture:

Party Results 2016 Mandates Results 2012 Difference
Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, (DPS) 41.41 36 33 +3
Democratic Front (DF) (Coalition) 20.32 18 20 -2
Ključ (Coalition) 11.05 9 Not present  
Democratic Montenegro (DCG) 10.8 8 Not present (new party)  
Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDP) 5.23 4 6 -2
Social Democrats of Montenegro (SD) 3.26 2 Not present (new party)  
Bosniak Party (BS) 3.16 2 3 -1
Albanians Decisively (AO) (Coalition) 1.27 1 Not present  
Croatian Civic Initiative (HGI) 0.47 1 1 0


The Parliament has 81 seats, with a threshold of 3%. Minority parties covering more than 15% of the population have a threshold of 0.7%, except from Croats, which have a lower limit of 0.3%.

The elections

Election day was generally calm and orderly, and voting was overall smooth, according to international observers. The opposition, however, highlighted a number of incidents which they denounced to the court. In addition to these accusations, there were a handful of returning difficulties, which international observers continue to point out: the electoral list is contested, media is biased and keep a low level of quality, and party funding is far from transparent.[5]

First, the electoral list is a typical matter of concern in many countries, and also in Montenegro there are allegations of duplications, dead persons still on the list, etc. In fact, the list contained 528,817 persons in a country with an estimation of 622,218 inhabitants according to official statistics, leaving 85% of the population as eligible voters.[6] As the opposition claims that this number is too high, an electronic system to clean up the list has been developed and put in use.[7] However, when the Minister of Interior, coming from the opposition, needed to sign the list, he refused to do so arguing that it had not been properly cleaned from false entries.[8] Eventually, a solution was found as a secretary signed it, but the doubt of the accuracy remains.

Second, the Montenegrin media is divided along political lines, and far from free and open, leaving it difficult for the population to make an informed choice. Government officials show “blatant favouritism” towards certain media outlets, and journalists, not only independent such, face “threats, attacks, and vandalism of their property”, leading to self-censorship and editorials being everything but independent.[9] This puts Montenegro as number 106 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index,[10] and affects the possibility for the electorate to get a broad and in depth analysis of the choices available, hampering the free choice.

Thirdly, the funding of political party is far from transparent. The ODIHR election monitoring mission writes that “All campaign finance transactions must be carried out through a specially designated bank account[…]. Some parties opened campaign accounts late or reported little or no donations”[11]. At the same time, the EU points out that “There has been no political follow-up to the alleged abuse of public funds for party political purposes”[12] underlining the international concerns on this issue.

At the bottom of these concerns lie worries about where the parties get their funding from, and how they use it. The “Audio recording affair” which broke in 2013 show that the governing Democratic Party of Socialists offer jobs and loans to party donors and supporters.[13] At the same time the government accuse parts of the opposition to receive funds from Russia, which is indeed illegal as foreign funding is prohibited by law.

The lack of transparency regarding party funding is deeply worrying, in particular in combination with the severe accusations form both political sides, and international worries in addition. It casts a shadow over the level of separation between party and state, and the level of political corruption in the country. A shadow which has been better defined and more evident during the electoral campaign and the aftermath of the elections.


The long reign of Milo Djukanović coming to an end?

Many of these worries are reflected in the divisive figure of the outgoing Prime Minister Milo Djukanović. He has been in power since the first multiparty elections in 1991, either as prime Minister (1991-1998, 2002-2006, 2008-2010, and 2012 to 2016) or as President (1998-2002) apart from two periods of retirement between 2006-2008 and 2010-2012. As such, he and his party DPS have been the backbone of Montenegrin power for over 25 years. In fact, given that Mr Djukanović started his political career in the Montenegrin communist party, and that DPS is a splinter from the Communist party, the country has not seen a transition of power from former communists to another political party.

Djukanović has proven to be a political chameleon, moving from being a part of the Communist party and even a close ally of Slobodan Milošević in the late 1980’s, to becoming a Montenegrin nationalist and pro-independence advocate. He is also behind the Montenegrin EU application and opening membership negotiations, and as late as in 2015 Montenegro was invited by NATO to become members, which he advocates.

As such it is excusable to believe that he would be a supporter of deeper democratic reforms and protector of the rule of law, given that these are prerequisites for EU and NATO membership and corner stones of a modern state seeking international legitimacy. But Montenegro demonstrates serious problems with these aspects, where Freedom House reports that “abuse of power, misuse of public resources for party purposes, and excessive employment within the public administration remain common issues.” [14]

Mr Djukanović has long been accused of being involved in, or at least associated with, organised crime, in particular cigarette smuggling, and he was even investigated by Italian prosecutors at one point in time but the investigations could not proceed due to his immunity as the then Prime Minister of Montenegro.

After the 2016 elections, Djukanović decided to step down and leave the floor to the former Intelligence chief and Djukanović’s close ally Duško Marković. That was probably done in accordance with behind-the-scene advice from international partners, rather than as a reaction to the alleged plot to kill him on election day, as Djukanović has become an increasingly divisive figure, and increasingly more difficult to support by defenders of democracy such as the EU.


Campaigning against the DPS and Mr Djukanović

Given these allegations against Mr Djukanović and his rule, it is natural that the opposition focused its campaign on corruption, abuse of power and electoral fraud. In September 2015 the opposition alliance Democratic Front (DF) initiated protests against the government claiming that the government did not enjoy the legitimacy to organise free and fair elections, accusing the Prime Minister of electoral fraud and misuse of state funds for party political purposes.[15] After some weeks of protests, the Police met the demonstrators with tear gas. As the situation turned violent and people got injured, including opposition politicians, the situation seemed to slip out of hands.[16]

The demonstrations continued well into late winter 2016, and the immediate crisis softened in April with an agreement between the government and the opposition where a number of ministers were replaced with opposition figures. The aim was to break some of the power and direct control over key aspects of the state and the organisation of the elections in order to restore some trust in the institutions and to be able to prepare for the upcoming elections.[17]

But the demonstrations were only one part of the protests. The biggest opposition party (which is in effect a coalition of parties), the Democratic Front (DF) boycotted Parliament between October 2015 and May 2016,complicating political dialogue[18] and this only ended with the deal in April. The deal, which had been facilitated by the EU, meant that four ministers and one deputy prime minister were to be allocated to the opposition parties. In addition, a new speaker of Parliament was elected and a set of committees monitoring the electoral process were set up.[19] The deal was signed by the governing DPS and its former junior partner Social Democrat Party (SDP), plus the opposition parties Demos, URA Civic Movement, the Bosniak Party and the Social Democrats. The DF, which led the protests, did not sign.

All in all, the deal helped unblock the worst political tensions and the elections could be held relatively smoothly, allowing the opposition to participate in the process after the demonstrations and boycotts.


The opposition and ties to Russia

Djukanović on the other hand, claimed that the protests were orchestrated by Russia with the goal to derail the Montenegrin NATO bid.[20] The opposition is in fact to a large extent set up by a number of pro-Russian, pro-Serbian parties which are strongly opposing a future NATO membership.

Both being Slav and Orthodox countries, Russia and Montenegro have held tight ties up until recently. Hundreds of thousands of Russians make Montenegro their holiday destination each year, and as many as 30% of Montenegrin companies are Russian owned.[21] As such, Russian interests and influences in Montenegro have been relatively strong.

However, Montenegro joined sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, a move which has cooled down the relationship. It deteriorated further as NATO invited Montenegro to join the Alliance, a move which may be seen as more geopolitical than actually driven by common values and interests.[22]

But nevertheless, Russia is trying to keep relations close, and has been courting the opposition parties actively during the spring.[23]

The pro-Russian camp in Montenegro is also pro-Serbian, which means that it opposed national independence and would have preferred to remain in state union with Serbia after the referendum on independence in 2006. In fact, about 30% of the inhabitants in Montenegro identify themselves as Serbs, and almost 45% declare that they speak Serbian.[24] They tend to side with Serbian nationalists on a number of issues, including on EU and in particular NATO membership, and relations to Russia. They are still angry with the NATO for bombing Serbia and Montenegro during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, and tend to pursue a nationalist agenda putting national strength before democratic standards.

And the future?

Although the elections were on the large respecting international standards and fundamental freedoms, the process has showed that Montenegro’s democracy is fragile and deeply divided along two lines, where NATO membership and ultimate geopolitical allegiance is strongly contested. The current ruling party has been in power since the times of communism, and although reformed, it is, together with its former leader, credibly accused of corruption, electoral fraud and abuse of power.

The opposition may protest against such democratic irregularities, but the fact that the main opposition parties and coalitions are so openly pro-Russian and nationalistic, leaning towards leaders such as Mr Putin or indeed Mr Šešelj in Serbia, does not guarantee that they would fare better on issues such as rule of law and separation of powers if they came to power.

And that brings us to the conclusion that although the elections in themselves were deemed broadly in line with international standards and respecting fundamental freedoms, the Montenegrin democracy may face important challenges from within, and is seemingly standing with few defenders among the established political actors.



[1]“ Russians behind Montenegro coup attempt, says prosecutor”, Deutsche Welle, 06.11.2016

[2] ” Russia denies role in alleged plot to kill Montenegro’s premier”, Financial Times, November 7, 2016,

[3] Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, OSCE/ODIHR, Montenegro – Parliamentary Elections, 16 October 2016, p 3

[4] ”Montenegro MPs to Vote on New Govt Amid Boycott”, BalkanInsight, 28 November 2016, ,

“Hahn in Montenegro: Unsustainable that the entire opposition boycotts parliament”, Europe Western Balkans, 9 December 2016,

[5] Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, OSCE/ODIHR, Montenegro – Parliamentary Elections, 16 October 2016,

[6] “Estimated number of population on 1st of January”, Statistical Office of Montenegro,

[7] “Montenegro Deploys Software to Detect Fake Voters”, BalkanInsight, 16 December 2015,

[8]“Montenegro Minister Refuses to Sign Electoral Roll”, BalkanInsight, 6 October 2016,

[9] “Montenegro”, Freedom of the press, Freedom House, no date,

[10] “Montenegro” Reporters Without Borders, no date,

[11] Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, OSCE/ODIHR, Montenegro – Parliamentary Elections, 16 October 2016,

[12] European Commission, “Montenegro, 2015 Report”, Brussels, 10.11.2015, SWD(2015) 210 final,

[13] “Montenegro Probes Alleged Ruling Party Corruption”, BalkanInsight, 3 June 2013,

[14] ”Montenegro”, Nations in Transit, Freedom House, no date,

[15] “Montenegro Opposition Splits Over Parliament Boycott”, BalkanInsight, 14 October 2015,

Bošković, Mirko, “Why Montenegro’s protests are unlikely to spell the end for Milo Đukanović”, European Politics and Policy Blog, London School of Economics,

[16] “Montenegro Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesters”, BalkanInsight, 24 October 2015,

[17] “Election Deal Brings Hope of End to Montenegro Crisis” BalkanInsight, 4April 2016,

[18] “Montenegro Opposition Splits Over Parliament Boycott”, BalkanInsight, 14 October 2015,


[20] “Djukanović: Russia is Meddling in Montenegro”, Radio Free Europe, 18 December 2015,ć-russia-is-meddling-in-montenegro/27435598.html

[21] “Russians Dominate Foreign Ownership of Montenegrin Companies”, BalkanInsight, 18 August 2016,

[22] Samurkov, Maxim, “The Montenegro Gambit: NATO, Russia, and the Balkans”, Carnegie Moscow Center, 9 December 2015,

[23] “Putin’s Party to Foster Ties With Montenegro”, BalkanInsight, 11 April 2016,

“As NATO Membership Gets Closer, Montenegro Feels The Heat From Russia”, Radio Free Europe, 12 June 2014

[24] “Montenegro Releases Census Data”, BalkanInsight, 12 July 2011,

  • 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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