Montenegro has exited its latest regular election cycle in a state of emergency of sorts, with many questions that will continue to divide its society, deepen the existing political crisis and burden the challenging reforms induced by the process of the state’s democratization and Europeanization.
Minority parties have a better negotiating position
The 2016 parliamentary election was marked by a significant voter turnout – 73.2 percent which, despite of Montenegrin citizens’ traditional voter discipline, is a higher percentage compared with the previous parliamentary elections – those held in 2009 and 2012, respectively. Seats in parliament will be assumed by 81 deputies representing 9 parties and coalitions, out of the total of 17 lists of candidates.
The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) along with its “traditional partners”, namely the minority parties (Bosniak Party, Albanian Firmly, Croatian Civic Initiative) and the Social Democrats, will have a required majority of 42 seats. As in the previous election, the national minorities are the “leverage”, and one should not expect their support to DPS to be revoked, in spite of tempting offers by the opposition.
However, due to the complexity of the situation, minority parties have a better negotiating position for satisfying their particular interests, as well as a need to justify such decision to their own voters, bearing in mind their decline since the previous election which could be viewed as an expression of their voters’ dissatisfaction with the effects of the support to the government.
Parliamentary Elections 2012
Coalition European Montenegro – 39 seats
Democratic Front (DF) - 20 seats
Socialist People’s Party of Montenegro (SNP) - 9 seats
Positive Montenegro – 7 seats
Bosniak Party - 3 seats
Albanian Coalition (Democratic Alliance in Montenegro, Democratic Party) – 1 seat
Forca – 1 seat
Croatian Civic Initiative (HGI) – 1 seat
Parliamentary Elections 2012
Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) – 36 seats
Democratic Front (DF) - 18 seats
Grand Coalition KEY (DEMOS, SNP, URA) – 9 seats
DEMOCRATS – 8 seats
Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDP) – 4 seats
Social Democrats of Montenegro (SDP) – 2 seats
Bosniak Party – 2 seats
Albanian Firmly (Forca, DUA, AA) – 1 seat
Croatian Civic Initiative (HGI) – 1 seat
The election campaign was marked by personalization
The Montenegro election was preceded by a campaign that was more expensive and intensive than ever; a campaign in which two radically divided poles in the Montenegrin political arena – the ruling DPS and the opposition Democratic Front (DF) – have fed off each other and grown in the process. Both the DPS’ and DF’s campaign have focused on the same person.
DPS has focused on Milo Đukanović as their face which has carried the campaign from the prime ministerial seat, with DF also focusing on Milo Đukanović as Montenegro’s sole and key problem, ultimately defined by their lead slogan: “Us or HIM”. Other election subjects have mainly remained in the shadow of this political showdown. As a result of its belated and unconvincing campaign, the Grand Coalition KLJUČ (Key) fared worse than expected whereas the Democrats, following a year’s fieldwork that only intensified in the election campaign, managed to score an excellent result as compared with their starting position, but also to create a base for their future work.
Truth be told, the Democrats remained out of reach of other election participants’ attacks for the most part, and their election campaign, apart from direct communication with the citizens, addressed local issues and concrete problems which has proven to be an effective formula. One of the election victors is certainly the Social Democratic Party (SDP), led by former Speaker of Parliament Ranko Krivokapić. After 18 years spent in coalition with DPS and a turbulent breakup, Krivokapić has proven himself as a skilled political tactician who succeeded in steering his party towards a departure from DPS’ policies, however without unnecessary pledges to the finality of his political stances.
Foreign policy played a major role
This election was also strongly marked by the international factor – that is, Montenegro’s foreign policy priorities have influenced the course and outcome of the election more than was the case in the past. Ultimately, the majority of Montenegrin citizens decided to support NATO and EU integrations, as well as further development of good neighborly relations, rather than a u-turn towards Russia.
Still, it should be noted that not all segments of this majority support are close to the ruling DPS. Namely, there is a significant number of European integration advocates in Montenegro who are against Đukanović’s manner of ruling, even though this aspect is often lost in a black-white view of Montenegro from abroad. This is also contributed to by a lack of a stronger and more resistant party structure which would dominantly gather an undisputable pro-western civic expression, as well as by the inertia of the international community which, insisting on stability, accepts Đukanović while often turning a blind eye to the fact that Montenegro is becoming increasingly known as a state privately owned by a small number of privileged persons who, unlike the rest of the citizens, are above the law.
NGOs have reported irregularities during election day
Nongovernmental organizations which have monitored the election have reported numerous irregularities during election day, which is opposite to similar reports by election participants who obviously wanted to contest this election at any cost and with complete awareness of the many insufficiencies. After the election night, some opposition parties have brought up the fact that there were irregularities, but it was not further elaborated. Finally, all records by municipal election commissions (23) were signed by members of both ruling and opposition parties, and out of 1206 electoral committees, irregularities were directly reported by participants in the election in only three! Hence, all political parties have effectively recognized the regularity of the election process.
However, what cast a serious shadow on the election’s legitimacy is the so-called “attempted coup d'état” which has disturbed the Montenegrin public on election day and possibly determined the vote in some cases. Montenegrin institutions are obliged to fully shed light on this case and present to the public convincing arguments justifying their actions and presented doubts in order to disprove the impression that this was part of the “election engineering”, especially since this is a matter of serious claims, potentially dangerous activities and unusual behavior by competent organs. Even one week after the election, state officials have not managed to convince the Montenegrin public that this case was “clean as a whistle”, while the long-awaited clarification was neither unequivocally provided by Serbian Prime Minister Vučić.
International observers have assessed this election as a fair one. Having said that, it is difficult to shake off the impression that, more than facts, they were led by preconvictions and a paradigmatic approach of having to chose a lesser of two “evils” or a pro-western wing, regardless of other things that could be held against this wing, particularly concerning its modest results in establishing a system of rule of law. In the long run, this could generate a whole range of irregularities and help lead to a deepening of existing social deviations. In addition, Montenegrin competent institutions have remained mute and blind before the fact that the two strongest political structures had plenty of funds for their campaigns, which had to arouse certain suspicions concerning the election’s regularity.
Milo Đukanović’s rule has been “melting away”
After the election, Montenegro is not essentially closer to NATO than it was prior to it. There remains a high percentage of those who are disdainful of this alliance. DF, the strongest opposition structure, is dominantly building its political discourse upon anti-Atlanticism, as well as upon the increasingly pronounced euro-skepticism, along with a benevolent attitude towards Russia. An aggravating circumstance is also represented by the fact that the top of DPS which exemplifies the locomotive of Montenegro’s NATO integrations personifies crime and corruption in the Montenegrin public. This fact is a powerful propaganda tool in the hands of open or concealed anti-NATO activists linked with Moscow’s influence in Montenegro.
Although he has won this election, too, Milo Đukanović’s rule has been “melting away” for some time now. The process of European integrations, inter alia, causes monopoles of power to collapse, including those of DPS and Đukanović. A government representing the popular election will is Đukanović’s indirect admission that he was developing his exit strategies and of his awareness that he was a burden to further reform procedures in the Montenegrin society.
Đukanović himself is probably aware of the fact that this was his last election victory achieved in this manner; he will thus work on broadening DPS’ coalition capacity in order to keep DPS in the government even in the event of some future, more unfavorable elections. The period before the accession to NATO can be considered a relatively secure period of this rule, but this process is supposed to be completed prior to the end of this government’s term. Therefore, it is questionable whether the government will have sufficient “connective tissue” to resist a justified dissatisfaction with the rather harsh socio-economic situation.
The latest parliamentary election in Montenegro was characterized by many as historic. Still, its outcome remains at the level of a regular one, yet failing to bring about a change in the ruling structure.
Positive Montenegro – a party that has all but vanished after its embrace with DPS
Positive Montenegro, founded in May 2012, namely five months before the October 2012 parliamentary election, won 8.4% (7 seats) on that occasion, thus securing a respectable fourth place among parliamentary coalitions and parties. Profiled as a center-left party and firmly oriented towards Euro-Atlantic integrations and cooperation with the Greens, this party was supported by a significant number of civic-minded opposition voters. It completed its 4-year term with 3 out of the initial 7 deputies, as the majority of deputies and officials at all levels have left the party and its leader during the narrowing of internal democratic processes, as well as its moving closer to the ruling DPS. Finally, on January 27 2016, the votes by Positive Montenegro in the Parliament of Montenegro helped sustain Milo Đukanović’s government. In return, the party was given the post of Speaker of Parliament and one of the six vice presidential seats in the Government of Montenegro. This did not live up to the Montenegrin voters’ expectations – thus, this party has been deprived of its parliamentary status in the 2016 election.
Darko Pajović and the party he was heading faced two possibilities and one decision. To position itself on top of the opposition pyramid and be an essential initiator of the process of democratic change of power in Montenegro, or run into the embrace of DPS with an unconvincing justification of defending Montenegrin national interests. One can only wonder that in this enthusiasm of “state defense“ Pajović himself has not managed to secure a coalition with DPS in this election, given the fact that Positive Montenegro has gone to that much effort as the last line of political defense of Đukanović’s government. In any case, this was a steep price for a series of political mistakes made even prior to the crucial decision.
Opposition Victory in Budva and Kotor
With the parliamentary election, the local one held in four Montenegrin municipalities – Kotor, Budva, Gusinje and Andrijevica – has been slightly marginalized. DPS was the convincing victor, whether contesting the election independently or with its partners, in the northern municipalities – Gusinje and Andrijevica; however, it lost the strategically more important tourist destinations – Budva and Kotor. Budva is the hometown of DPS’ former ideologist and technologist of power Svetozar Marović who was recently convicted, by final judgment, as head of an organized criminal group, for felonies from the domain of corruption. Since both municipalities had been DPS strongholds at the seaside, this will represent a significant loss.
 Social Democrats (SD) was formed following a mid-2015 rift in the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDP) when the latter effectively revoked its support to DPS after 18 years of coalition. A number of officials left SDP on that occasion and continued to support Milo Đukanović's government via the newly-established SD, as well as to maintain a coalition with DPS at the local level.
 The European Montenegro coalition was composed of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDP) and the Liberal Party (LP).