Montenegro 2016 parliamentary election: Voting in favour or against NATO and EU membership

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in Montenegro in the light of the parliamentary election scheduled for 16 October 2016. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Montenegro 2016 parliamentary election: Voting in favour or against NATO and EU membership” are given below.

Montenegro 2016 parliamentary election:

 

Voting in favour or against NATO and EU membership

 

On 16 October 2016 Montenegro will hold the tenth parliamentary election since it introduced the multi-party system and the forth such election since the country proclaimed independence. The 81 seats of the Montenegrin Parliament will be elected by the electorate of 530,840 voters registered in the central electoral roll. The election threshold is 3%. The parliamentary election will be accompanied by the local election for the municipalities of Kotor and Budva.

 

On 16 October 2016 Montenegrin citizens will be able to choose from among 18 electoral lists:  ● A Safe Step! – DPS – Milo Đukanović ● the Key Coalition ● A Country for Everyone! – SDP – Ranko Krivokapić ● Serb Party ●Victories, not divisions – Democrats – Aleksa Bečić ● The Party of Pensioners, Disabled and Social Justice – Dr. Smajo Šabotić ● Croatian Civic Initiative ● Consistently – Social Democrats of Montenegro – Ivan Brajović ● Positive Montenegro ● Bosniak Party ●  Democratic Front (DF) ● Alternative Montenegro ● Albanians Decisively - Forca, DUA, Albanian Alternative ● Democratiuc Alliance of Albanians – Group of Citizens ● The Coalition with One Goal - Gzim Hajdinaga“ ● Montenegro in safe hands – Party of Serb Radicals ● Bosniak Democratic Community.

 

In order to run in the parliamentary election the political parties and lists had to collect about 4,000 signatures showing the support of 0.8% of voters while the parties of minority ethnic communities had to collect 1000 signatures.

 

It is interesting to look at the election slogans of the candidate parties and lists. Thus, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) turns to its voters with the slogan “A Safe Step”, the Democratic Front (DF) sends the message “Either us, or him”, Ranko Krivokapić's Social Democratic Party (SDP) promises “A Country for Everyone”, Aleksa Bečić calls for “Victories, not divisions”, the Key Coalition  knows what is “The Best for Montenegro”, Ivan Brajović Social Democrats (SD) uses the slogan Consistently”, Positive Montenegro says “Because we love Montenegro”, and the minority Croatian Civic Initiative promises (HGI) “Croatian Heart for Montenegro”.

 

The election campaign is run by two powerful political blocks – one for EU and NATO membership and the other one against it. The opposition block has never been as destructive and heterogeneous as during the current election campaign. Its approach is based on building a conglomerate of variegated political parties/persons whose main preoccupation is to oppose NATO and – some opposition parties – also EU full membership, hoping to bring Montenegro closer to Serbia and Russia. The political rhetoric of most opposition parties is concentrated on fighting organised crime and corruption, opposing the leading Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and undermining Montenegro's incumbent Prime Minister Milo Đukanović. These parties are led by the disappointed followers of Milošević regime or those who have gained certain benefits from being close to the governing authorities. In fact the opposition does not offer any concrete solutions, except that it will deal with Đukanović and the incumbent government, if elected. However, this represents a very dangerous model – dealing with organised crime and corruption without distinguishing between private (business) initiatives and real crime and corruption.

 

Analysts have stressed that it would be of key importance for Montenegro to create new jobs and opportunities for the young and to build a vision of economic prosperity and general social development.

Montenegro's most strategically important election ever

Women are still underrepresented in Montenegrin politics despite the obligatory 25% female quota for electoral lists.  The country has achieved certain progress in the field of resolving the LGBT issues. Most of the media in Montenegro are facing a difficult situation. Journalists are often deprived of their professional as well as physical freedoms. The assassination of Duško Jovanović, editor-in-chief of the opposition daily newspaper "Dan" from Podgorica, after more than 12 years still remains unresolved. The position of ethnic minorities has to be systematically regulated, putting in place the mechanisms for their protection from being assimilated. A clear signal from the state to Albanian and Bosniak minority ethnic communities could lead to the establishment of independent municipalities. The municipality of Petnjica has already been established, so in the next period efforts should be made to establish the municipalities of Tuzi (Malesija - Malësia) and Golubovci. It is obvious that the state has failed to exploit the significant potential of the large Montenegrin Diaspora which has been generally ignored in the election campaign.

 

Analysts have noted that since the disintegration of former SFRY Montenegro still has not managed to shape a strong autochthonous opposition political party without a pro-Serbian or pro-Russian orientation. The forthcoming parliamentary election is strategically the most important election in Montenegro's history, since this politically cleft country will finally have to decide whether to join NATO and EU or to strengthen its ties and cooperation with Russia and Serbia.

 

Analysts have noted that the current election campaign is more creative and innovative. The reason for this lies among other in the fact that the campaigns for the two leading political blocks (DPS and the Democratic Front – DF) are led by two Israeli experts for election campaigns.

 

The election campaign is marked by fierce and aggressive attacks among DPS and DF. The Democratic Front (New Serb Democracy, Movement for Changes and Democratic Party for Unity) has based its election campaign on the negative approach, blaming the ruling party for corruption and incapacity to act, the main target of attacks being the decision of the Montenegrin government for NATO full membership.

Montenegro between Cossacks and NATO

The opposition parties, notably those that are pro-Russian and pro-Serbian oriented, are partly financed from abroad. Criticism has already been expressed by the public that Russia is providing significant financial assistance primarily to the Democratic Front. The fact is that DF is running a very costly campaign which is mainly focused on opposing Montenegro's membership in NATO.  Certain experts believe that its campaign is aimed at inflicting as much damage as possible to Milo Đukanović (DPS) rather than addressing the voters and persuading them to vote for DF. The aim of causing this damage is not only to achieve certain election results but also to cause a deeper and long-lasting cleavage and polarisation among the citizens and to stop Montenegro's Euro-Atlantic integration. Interestingly, DF's head office in Podgorica is located in the street named Moskovska Ulica. Should the present ruling coalition lose the election, a complete turn in the country's foreign policy is expected, which might cause nationalistic tensions that have been successfully controlled and restrained so far. This would lead to inner instability and crisis that could spread to the neighbouring countries.

 

The so-called “Balkan Cossacks Army” has been formed recently in front of St. Nicholas Church in Kotor, Montenegro. Besides the uniformed Cossacks the event was attended by bikers from Russia, pro-Russian parts of Ukraine, Serbia, Republika Srpska and Montenegro, the clergymen from Serbian Orthodox Church and others. The formation of the Balkan Cossacks Army in Montenegro is taking place at the time when this country is about to become a full member of NATO.

 

The symbolism of forming the Balkan Cossacks Army is illustrated by the fact that Russia is already strongly present in Montenegro and the whole Balkan region – this is Russia's visible presence. However, Russia is also using the concealed methods of its presence and influence in Montenegro and the Balkans. At the forthcoming parliamentary election Montenegro will have to choose between the Cossacks and NATO full membership. This means the citizens will have to decide between the past and the future. The answer to that question will be delivered at the parliamentary election on 16 October 2016.

Is Montenegro's stability under threat?

Public opinion polls have shown that it will be a difficult task for DPS to remain in power for another term of office. Unlike in previous elections DPS is now running the election race without its main coalition partners that used to ensure a large share of votes to the party and a stable support to Milo Đukanović as the Prime Minister. This coalition collapsed when Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Ranko Krivokapić, who was Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament for many years, started to block some important foreign investments and tried to overthrow Milo Đukanović's government which had nevertheless enjoyed sufficient support in the Parliament. The political strategy designed by Krivokapić and his mentors was obviously misconceived and will probably not even enable his party to pass the election threshold, which would represent an end to his political career.

 

After his political swing and efforts to overthrow the government, Krivokapić liaised with the Democratic Front and other pro-Serbian and pro-Russian forces that he once used to call the enemies of the state. His SDP fell apart and lost most of its members who formed a new party – Social Democrats (SD) led by the Minister of Transport Ivan Brajović. The recent local election in the municipality of Tivat which took place in April 2016 was the first test of new relations on the Montenegrin political scene. DPS won absolute majority while the newly established SD came second with over 10% of votes.

 

The election results in Tivat showed that Ivan Brajović's SD will play the key role in the future attitude of the Montenegrin Parliament towards Euro-Atlantic integration processes and in the country's political stability on its way to NATO and EU membership. It will depend on SD's election result whether Montenegro will continue the accession processes and keep its political stability, or fall in a deep political crisis which might even lead to ethnic conflicts in this country which had until now served as a role model for successful integration of various ethnic communities.  It should be noted, however, that numerous dissatisfied DPS followers have already decided to support SD, perceiving it as the guarantor for the continuation of Euro-Atlantic processes and the development policy.

The opposition would find it difficult to form the new government

The opposition in Montenegro is fragmented and it would find it very difficult to form the government unless DPS and SD won majority in the Parliament. The differences between DF, the Democrats and the Key Coalition (the latter one unites three opposition parties: Demos, SNP and URA) are too large and it is unlikely that they would be able to overcome them. Their only common goal that unites them is to overthrow the incumbent government without providing any alternative strategy or programme to the voters. If the opposition wins, Montenegro may expect a period of political instability, the halt in Euro-Atlantic integration processes and a fall of foreign investments that have in recent years enabled Montenegro to achieve some of the best macroeconomic indicators in the region.

                                                                                                                                                                          

Ljubljana, October 4, 2016



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