The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly conducts analyses of events spanning the Middle East, the Balkans, and global affairs. IFIMES is examining the situation in Montenegro in light of its 44th Government's formation. We are presenting the main and most interesting findings from our comprehensive analysis titled “Montenegro 2023: Is there an effort to establish an 'interim government' to enable the return of the DPS to power?”:
On 30 August, Montenegro marked the three-year anniversary of the democratic elections that ousted Milo Djukanović's regime and the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). This event signified great democratic leap, as it brought an end to the longest-standing authoritarian regime in Europe after 30 years.
After the parliamentary elections on 30 August, the 42nd government, known as the apostolic government due to the significant involvement of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in its formation, was established. This government remained in office until the end of April 2022 when the 43rd government, led by Prime Minister Dritan Abazović (URA) and termed a minority government, came into existence, representing a rather unique event.
In April this year, presidential elections were held, resulting in the personal defeat of Milo Djukanović and the election of Jakov Milatović (PES) as the new President of Montenegro, with convincing support.
Early parliamentary elections were held on 11 June 2023. The “Europe Now Movement” received the highest voter trust for the Montenegrin Parliament, which consists of a total of 81 members, securing 25.53% (24 members). The coalition “Together” (DPS, SD, LP, DUA) gained 23.22% (21 members), the coalition “For the Future of Montenegro” (NSD, DNP, RP) received 14.74% (13 members), the coalition "Count Bravely" (Democrats and URA) achieved 12.48% (11 members), the Bosniak Party got 7.08% (6 members), the Albanian Forum received 1.91% (2 members), the coalition “For You” (SNP and Demos) secured 3.13% (2 members), the minority list of Croats “On the Right Side of the World” (HGI) got 0.74% (1 member), and the minority coalition of Albanians “Albanian Alliance” received 1.49% (1 member).
The election results have confirmed a resounding 2/3 majority victory for the so-called anti-Djukanović bloc (anti-DPS bloc) of political parties. The voter turnout for the elections stood at a mere 56.4%, marking the lowest turnout since the introduction of the multi-party system. This underscores a persistent trend of diminishing trust among citizens in institutions, politics, and politicians.
During the rule of Milo Djukanović and the DPS, Montenegro became a hotbed of crime and a refuge for numerous criminals who, under dubious circumstances and for money, obtained Montenegrin citizenship (such is the case of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra). Will Djukanović meet the same fate as Thaksin Shinawatra?
Over the past three years, Montenegro has become the centre of regional and European events. Democratic changes and reforms have been implemented, and the country has been integrated into regional and European affairs. As a trusted EU partner and NATO ally, Montenegro has unlocked new prospects for unprecedented economic and political growth, despite being the smallest state in the Western Balkans yet possessing an outstanding geostrategic position. Additionally, Montenegro now stands the chance, following Slovenia's mandate, to secure a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2026-2027 term, a potential milestone in its foreign policy achievements.
Prime Minister Dritan Abazović has presented the citizens of Montenegro with a proposal for a partnership and a new political concept of social contract and collaborative action, aiming to foster an inclusive society and charting a path for the future and prosperity for all citizens without discrimination. Abazović's government has undertaken activities and measures to reassert Montenegro's sovereignty over the Port of Bar, a location consistently identified and addressed in numerous international reports as a site linked to various forms of both domestic and international criminal activities. The Western world's tolerance of these activities has been justified by prioritizing fragile peace and short-term stability over the fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law. The roots of these criminal activities can be traced back to the times of regional wars and international sanctions, during which indelible links were forged between political structures and organized crime networks.
After the democratic changes over the past three years, Montenegro has become an insecure place for organized crime, which is leaving Montenegro and seeking more favourable havens in other countries in the region. This problem is particularly pronounced in Serbia, where mafia and criminal structures aspire to seize control of state institutions and oust President Aleksandar Vučić from power. At one juncture, Djukanović found it expedient to transfer certain criminal and mafia elements to Serbia and other countries of the region, in order to become a political player in those states.
Analysts assert that in the upcoming years, it is paramount to thoroughly dismantle the regime of Milo Djukanović and the DPS, which has deeply permeated all segments of society. It is imperative not to allow organized criminal groups in Montenegro to seek a »lifeline« within the political parties that will constitute the new Montenegrian government.
The mandate to form the 44th Government of Montenegro has been assigned to Milojko Spajić, the President of the Europe Now Movement (PES). The Parliament of Montenegro comprises 81 members and to secure the government's election, a minimum of 41 members' votes is required, while a 2/3 majority decision necessitates the support of at least 49 members.
The new government is tasked with ensuring the continuation of reforms, including improving the standard of living, combating crime and corruption, and expediting the country's European integration process.
It is imperative to define clear principles of foreign policy that do not compromise Montenegro's status as a credible NATO ally and a dependable partner committed to achieving full EU membership. Equally vital is the ongoing fostering of genuinely positive relations with neighbouring countries, a goal that has, for the most part, already been realized. Reforming the judicial, police, security-intelligence, and defence systems, tainted by the influence of DPS personnel, is of utmost importance. Montenegro's citizens long for justice, and these expectations remain unfulfilled. Therefore, the controlling voting stake in parliament should not be allowed to remain in the hands of the DPS.
Based on the outcome of the election, it is anticipated that the victorious so-called anti-Djukanović coalition (anti-DPS coalition) of political parties will jointly establish the 44th Government of Montenegro. The expectations are that this government will be founded on the election results and the political entities that toppled the regime of Milo Djukanović and the DPS and that it will acknowledge Montenegro's diversity. Otherwise, the new government might function as an interim government, potentially paving the way for the imminent return of the DPS to power. The current method of government formation suggests a scenario where DPS votes would determine the appointment of judges and prosecutors, effectively paralyzing the fight against crime and corruption.
No political party in Montenegro should replicate the DPS, and no political leader should aspire to be the next Milo Djukanović. The primary responsibility in this regard falls upon Prime Minister Milojko Spajić (PES), who, in the present circumstances, must prioritize statesmanship over political calculations. The governance of the state must be free from emotions, personal grievances, vanity, and the baggage of past interpersonal relationships among Montenegro's political figures.
Analysts contend that it is important for Montenegro to promptly establish a robust, inclusive, and stable government, enjoying substantial support in parliament from at least 49 members. This government should continue its unrelenting campaign against organized crime and corruption, while uniting the political entities that dismantled the regime of Milo Djukanović and the DPS on 30 August 2020 and integrating minority parties into the governing framework. The recent course and approach to government formation do not instil optimism or promote synergy; rather, it appears to be an attempt to euthanize the fight against crime and corruption and facilitate the return of the DPS to power by handing it a controlling voting stake in parliament. This could usher Montenegro into an exceedingly uncertain period, as the DPS could exert influence over all aspects of governance, precipitate political crises, and compel early elections at any moment.
Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington/Podgorica, 7 September 2023
 IFIMES - International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN in New York since 2018, and it is the publisher of the international scientific journal "European Perspectives."