Elections in Montenegro: Geopolitical implications and repercussions

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

August 30, Montenegro held parliamentary elections, which resulted in the victory of presidential European integration-oriented Democratic Party of Socialists' victory
14:00, 2 September 2020



President Milo Đukanović’s ruling and European integration-oriented Democratic Party of Socialists won about 35% of the vote at the August parliamentary elections in Montenegro, while the opposition and rapprochement with Russia and Serbia coalition For the Future of Montenegro, Professor Zdravko Krivokapić – about 33%. Despite the fact that in Montenegro the church is separated from the state, the local clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church sided with the opposition. These disagreements resemble the conflict between Orthodox churches in Ukraine during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko. Montenegro's foreign policy will depend on the fact, which political forces will be able to agree on the formation of a ruling coalition with other parties.

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Geopolitical context

Since gaining independence in 2006, Montenegro has been subject to competition between Western and Russian influence in the Balkans. The incumbent president has earned a reputation as a champion of NATO interests in Montenegro. As head of the government of Montenegro, then the subject of the confederation of Serbia and Montenegro (S&M), Đukanović’s contributed to the 2006 independence referendum. Serbia lost access to the Adriatic Sea, and Russia lost the prerequisites for creating a naval base near NATO's southern borders.

It would seem that Montenegro finally entered the Western sphere of influence after the 2016 parliamentary elections. The Democratic Party of Socialists performed better than now with 41.41% of the vote, while the Democratic Front, which opposes NATO membership and rapprochement with Serbia and Russia, received 20.32% of the vote. The attempted coup d'état on election day failed. Montenegrin law enforcement officers detained a group of Serbian ultranationalists, who were supposed to open fire on protesters of the Democratic Front and provoke the crowd to storm government offices. According to special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić, the Russian special services might be involved in organizing the provocation. In 2017, Montenegro joined NATO, and Đukanović’s solidified his success in the 2018 presidential elections, defeating with a 53.9% vote of the independent candidate Mladen Bojanić, who supported the Democratic Front two years ago.

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However, Moscow and Belgrade found another sore corn on the body of Montenegrin society. In December 2019, the Parliament of Montenegro adopted a law on freedom of religion, which allows the government to alienate the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, including hundreds of churches, monastic complexes that belonged to the Kingdom of Montenegro before joining the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes in 1918. Serbian clergy view this step as a prelude to the government handing over its churches to the autocephalous Montenegrin Orthodox Church, self-proclaimed in 1993 and unrecognized by any of the canonical Orthodox churches. The freedom of religion law is unpopular among ethnic Serbs, who make up a third of Montenegro's population. In early 2020, protests began in the country with the support of the Serbian clergy.

The Democratic Front has adjusted to public sentiment, replaced its anti-NATO rhetoric with slogans to defend Orthodoxy, and formed in August the For the Future of Montenegro coalition with the Popular Movement and the Socialist People's Party. On the eve of the elections, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amphilochius, announced that he would visit a polling station for the first time in his life and urged his parishioners to vote against those who "rule by the wrong laws." Montenegrin society was split in two - into supporters and opponents of the law on freedom of religion, which affected the election results.

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Serbia is betting on the For the Future of Montenegro coalition, which is in partnership with President Aleksandar Vučić’s Serbian Radical Party. The Serbian president regards the religious protests in the neighboring country as the protection of their identity by the Serbs, and, according to him, For the Future of Montenegro enjoys the support of the inhabitants of the northern regions of Montenegro. It is not for nothing that the For the Future of Montenegro Alliance is informally called the Vučić’s List.

It is unlikely that under the conditions of NATO membership, the coalition For the Future of Montenegro will try to restore a confederal alliance with Serbia, as this will cause protests in Montenegrin society. However, the Socialist People's Party opposed the collapse of Serbia and Montenegro during the 2006 independence referendum. The Serbs are counting on the new authorities in Montenegro to change their position on Kosovo. In 2008, the Đukanović’s government recognized the independence of the separatist region of Serbia.

Russia is interested in the coming to power of the For the Future of Montenegro coalition in order to acquire a Trojan horse in NATO. In this case, Montenegro will block further expansion of the alliance, initiatives to increase the military presence of member states near the western borders of the Russian Federation, and provide support to Ukraine. Like the Serbian government, the Alliance for the Future of Montenegro does not abandon the idea of ​​a European future for its country, but at the same time considers it expedient to pursue closer cooperation with Russia.

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Socio-economic implications

The crisis phenomena in the Montenegrin economy added fuel to the fire of popular discontent. Montenegro's economic growth slowed last year as a result of a $ 88 million decline in foreign investment and the completion of the Bar-Borjar highway. The IMF predicted a slowdown in economic growth in Montenegro to 2.5% in 2020, half of what it was two years ago.

The situation was aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic. This year the Montenegrin economy might lose 9%. Quarantine measures, including border closures and social distancing, have halved the flow of tourists. Tourism represents 11.7% of Montenegro's GDP. During the pandemic, the debt burden for the state budget has increased. The government introduced tax holidays, provided loans to enterprises up to $ 3 million. In 2019, the public debt of Montenegro exceeded 64% of GDP.

Until recently, Montenegro has been developing relatively robustly. From 2006 to 2019, Montenegro's GDP increased from 2.72 to 5.42 billion dollars, the volume of foreign direct investment increased from 603 to 770 million euros, mainly in the tourism, construction, transport, and energy sectors, which are the drivers of the Montenegrin economy.

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Democracy deficit

Political scandals left a negative imprint on the reputation of Đukanović, who has been in power in Montenegro since 1991. In February 2019, the opposition organized rallies and demonstrations in Podgorica against poverty, violation of human rights, restrictions on freedom of the media, demanding the resignation of Prosecutor-General Ivica Stanković and Chief Prosecutor for Organized Crime Milivoje Katnić, who turn a blind eye to crimes and corruption cases in Đukanović’s entourage. Since 2007, 21 attacks have been carried out in Montenegro against journalists of one of the Vesti local newspapers, and in December 2019 - against the journalist of the Dan publication Vladimir Otašević, with whom the authorities may have a relationship.

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Last year, Montenegro was ranked 66th in the world in terms of susceptibility to corruption. In January 2019, a video was released in which the chairman of the board of Atlas Group, Duško Knežević, transfers 100,000 dollars in an envelope to the then-mayor of Podgorica, Slavoljub Stijepović, to finance the election campaign of the Democratic Party of Socialists. At the same time, a recording of a conversation between a bank employee and an official was published, who agreed on a bribe so that the inspection did not visit Knežević’s bank.

Lines of the future coalition

None of the opposing parties won enough votes to form a parliamentary majority (41 places). According to the results of the current elections, the Democratic Party of Socialists can claim 30 seats in parliament, and the coalition For the Future of Montenegro - 28 seats. Political forces will have to seek support from other parties.

The success of the allies of Russia and Serbia would depend on whether they can agree on an alliance with the political bloc Peace is Our Nation, which claims ten seats in parliament. It includes the United Party of Pensioners and Disabled People, which broke away from the Democratic Front. A potential partner can be the environmental party United Reform Action, which claims four seats. In the last parliamentary elections, she was a partner of the Socialist People's Party. The weak point of the Democratic Front is the lack of support among the Albanian and Bosnian minorities, ruined relations with many center-left and populist parties after the shift to the right camp after 2016.

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Perhaps, the Democratic Party of Socialists will maintain its partnership with its current coalition ally - the Social Democrats party, which claims three seats in parliament. Đukanović will try to find points of contact with the political forces Albanian List, Albanian Coalition, Bosnian Party, which count on 5 seats. Albanians and Bosnians support the independence of Montenegro and are in solidarity with the decision of the authorities to recognize the independence of Kosovo. It will not be easy to come to terms with the former coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, which claims two seats. In 2016, the Social Democrats voted for a vote of no confidence in the Đukanović government.

Supposedly, the position of small parties and the composition of political blocs may change depending on the change of partners during coalition negotiations. The favorite who offers the most interesting conditions for cooperation will win. Presumably, the coalition talks could drag on indefinitely, provoke a political crisis, and even re-elections, as was the case in Israel.


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