After having managed to peacefully survive the 1990s wars that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Montenegro’s politics and its society were determined by the relations with and independence from Serbia. In 2006 a majority of 55.5 per cent declared in a referendum to be in favour of independence, narrowly passing the official 55.5 per cent threshold. Anno 2018 Montenegro is in the process of EU accession - talks have been opened on all of the 33 negotiation chapters and provisionally closed three. On the one hand, the country has relatively good relations with other countries in South-East Europe, is a frontrunner in the region when it comes to LGBTI Rights, has appointed an independent special prosecutor to tackle organised crime and high-level corruption, considerably improved the relations between civil society and the government, aligned its foreign policy with the EU and became a NATO member in 2017. On the other hand, however, business tycoons are dominating an economy that mostly runs on remittances and tourism, major incidents around election day are the rule rather than the exception, and the country has never experienced a change of power at elections.
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- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- Democratic Party of Socialists, the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats
- Last Elections:
- 2018 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2020 (parliamentary elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Social Democratic Party (SD, SDP split-off)
Montenegro became a NATO member in June 2017. The country is also a candidate country for the EU, having opened all of the thirty three chapters in the EU negotiations, with three provisionally closed. The initial invitation to NATO led to protests by pro-Serbian parties and their supporters. Further protests were fueled by the opposition alliance Democratic Front (DF) who voiced accusations of corruption, undemocratic practices and election fraud against President Milo Đukanović (Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS). During the elections of 2016, several incidents occurred reflecting the seemingly mutually exclusive support for NATO and Europe, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other. In the end, a 'pro-West’ coalition was formed led by DPS, who got the majority of votes. Although divided, the opposition has become stronger due to the reforms that went along with the EU integration process. The Russian government has been critical of Montenegro's bid to join NATO, which culminated in a coup attempt on 16 October 2016. Russia still has a large economic presence in Montenegro, with almost 30 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment in 2016 going to Montenegro coming from Russia. This, on top of the fact that roughly one-third of foreign companies operating in the country are owned by Russians. Although Russia has 'lost' Montenegro to NATO, the country remains determined to exert influence in the region.
After World War II Montenegro became one of the six equal republics of the Yugoslav federation. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Montenegro remained in a union with Serbia as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. On 21 May 2006 a referendum was held, where the majority of the Montenegrin population (55.5 per cent) declared to be in favour of independence. With that, the threshold of 55 per cent, as stippled by the EU, was narrowly passed. Montenegro’s first parliamentary and presidential elections as an independent state as well as the parliamentary elections of October 2012 did not bring any big political changes.
Since 1998 SDP and DPS ruled together. The coalition has become less stable over time. At the national level, DPS blocked the adoption of a new electoral law. Failure to adopt this electoral law could lead to a serious political crisis. After the blockade, the main opposition party, the Democratic Front Party, left the parliament. They accused the DPS of obstructing the Assembly and urged the DPS to take responsibility for the political crisis. On the local level, the rapture between the two-party became apparent in 2013. This, while on a national level, the parties only broke just before the parliamentary election in 2016.
The blockade of the DPS has deepened the distrust between the opposition and the government, which started on April 2013 with electoral fraud and the misuse of state resources with regards to the presidential elections, announced the Democratic Front. Next to the national level, friction at the local level was visible as well; during local elections in 2013, the SDP decided to work together with an opposition party, which had never happened since DPS and SDP started ruling together. This new alliance could cause friction within the national coalition. For the April 2014 local elections in the capital of Podgorica, SDP formed a pre-election coalition with the new opposition party: 'Positive'.
The country has been immersed in a coup drama since the 16 October general elections when authorities arrested 20 people accused of planning armed attacks against government institutions. This group consisted of mostly Serb nationals, but also included two Russian citizens, Eduard Sirokov and Vladimir Popov, and two Montenegrin opposition leaders.
Prime Minister at that time Milo Đukanović (DPS), whose party came out first in the election but without a parliamentary majority, had presented the vote as a chance for Montenegro’s 620,000 citizens to endorse his policy of joining NATO and the EU, instead of pursuing deeper ties with allies in Serbia and Russia.
Since then, tensions have built up, and the situation became even tenser after the nation’s special prosecutor lifted the parliamentary immunity of two leaders who were suspected of having participated in a failed coup. In February 2017, riot police were stationed to restrain hundreds of protesters who gathered in front of the parliament in Podgorica to protest against the motion lifting the two leaders’ immunity. It is assumed by the government that the coup to attack Montenegro’s parliament and kill Đukanović was directed by Russian intelligence officers to sabotage the country’s plan to join NATO.
Nonetheless, Montenegro joined NATO in April 2017 as the parliament voted 46-0 for joining the alliance. The opposition boycotted the vote and protested outside the parliament building. Only SDP voted, from the opposition, for NATO membership. The relationship between Podgorica and Moscow has further deteriorated due to Montenegro’s NATO membership.
Parliament, dominated by the Democratic Party of Socialists, lifted one of the opposition leaders Medojevic‘s immunity as per requested by the special prosecutor for organised crime, Milivoje Katnic. Katnic said police should take Medojevic in for questioning, after which a decision on his possible arrest would be made. Medojevic is known as one of the sharpest critics of the government and the ruling party run by veteran leader Milo Đukanović.
But the question remains whether this was a genuine coup attempt. On the one hand, it is claimed that it was a sinister effort to overturn a democratically elected administration and take over the country by force. On the other, critical analysts argue that it was a carefully choreographed event, designed to win sympathy for a controversial and allegedly corrupt ruling party that has been in power since 1991 on the verge of decreasing public support.
These critics believe that the government sought to manipulate the situation to its advantage. Although the indictment says Velimirović told authorities about the plot several days before the election, there was no mention of it in the media until election day itself, when the arrests of several alleged conspirators were announced. Internet communication services such as WhatsApp and Viber were cut off for hours during the day. All of these elements contributed to the sense that the country was in danger — a sense that may have persuaded some voters to rally behind the ruling party for the sake of stability.
After the presidential elections in April 2013, won narrowly by DPS candidate Filip Vujanović, allegations of misuse of public resources were even more prominent. Under pressure from the opposition, the SDP (junior partner in the governing coalition) and Brussels, the so-called process of 'restoring confidence in the electoral process' started. An inquiry team was founded in which all the parties were represented, in addition to the representatives from the NGO sector, while Brussels also provided technical assistance.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 states that pervasive corruption, marked by nepotism, political favouritism, and weak controls over conflicts of interest in all branches of the government is one of the biggest problems in Montenegro. In the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International, Montenegro scored 45, which is one point more than in 2013. Since 2013 it has moved from the 67th position to the 64th position (together with Oman, Senegal, South Africa and Suriname).
Freedom of media continues to be a problem in Montenegro and in December 2015 the European Parliament’s Montenegro rapporteur condemned the attacks on activists and politicians by the media and urged in a resolution to continue OSCE-facilitated dialogue on improving ethical and professional standards in the media.
In 2008, Montenegro applied for EU membership. In December 2011, the Council launched the accession process intending to open negotiations in June 2012, which started on the 29th of June. Since its accession process, each year, the European Commission has presented a (progress) report for Montenegro. In the 2016 report, it was said that Montenegro's priority should be reformed and concern the rule of law, which could be ‘demonstrated by tangible results on fighting corruption and organised crime’. Prioritising rule of law was important because it would determine the pace of the negotiations. The EU also stressed the need to improve the economy due to increasing public debt and to strengthen the administrative capacity to ensure the application of the European acquis. Currently, 33 out of 33 chapters are opened and 3 chapters have been provisionally closed.
For the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and their leader Milo Đukanović, the EU accession is less favourable. In the case of accession, there would be more supervision on his work, powers would be transferred to the parliament and the rule of law would be strengthened. This will put pressure on the power basis of Đukanović and could result in charges against him, something we have seen happen in Croatia with former Prime Minister Ivo Sander. Moreover, the accession process gives other parties less of a reason to work together with the DPS. In 2012 the SDP was part of the Coalition for a European Montenegro led by Đukanović. This, instead of following an independent political course. In 2016, after a split within their party, the SDP left the rulling coalition and following the announcement of a vote of no confidence, voted against the government. The split provided an opportunity for SDP to reform and modernise into a citizens’ party, transparent and open to outside influence and a focal point for civil society and human rights activists. Furthermore, the party could engage in new partnerships with the progressive opposition that will have more room to manoeuvre as the EU accession negotiations move on.
In February 2019, protests against President Milo Đukanović and his government started, calling on his resignation following the accusation of corruption and electoral fraud. The protests kicked off after media revealed footage and documents that appear to show top officials accepting suspicious funds for the party of Đukanović, exposing the so-called “Atlas” and “Envelope” affairs. The DPS and Dukanovic quickly denied any wrongdoing claiming that all donations were recorded in the party’s financial records.
Opposition parties supported the protests, which ended in summer 2019, but refrained from taking a leading role in the organisation behind the demonstrations or address the crowd. The organisation behind the protests is called Odupri Se! (Resist!) and consist of an informal group of intellectuals, academics, activists and journalists. The official demand of the movement was that the government should fold for the formation of a technical government because the conditions for free and transparent elections are not in place. Moreover, they called for the resignation of President Dukanovic and the chief prosecutor for organised crime, amongst other people. The movements were supported by people from the entire political landscape, with left-wing, moderate and right-wing factions working together in an attempt to oust the current government. On 4 December the Anti-Corruption Agency, ASk, published a report and subsequent ruling about the affair after it was pressured by opposition parties to release it. The ruling concluded that the DPS had failed to report 47.500 euro in donations, and issued a fine of 20.000 in response.
Representation of women
Women remain significantly underrepresented in Montenegrin politics. In the presidential election of 2008, no female candidates competed. The 2012 parliamentary elections provided for an improvement in women election participation with a total of 264 women that stood as candidates, declared to be a significant increase from past elections. In 2016, 15 out of 81 seats in the parliament are held by women, which is two more than in 2012. This is the highest share of women in the history of this institution. However, Montenegro lags behind on other Western-Balkan countries.
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of current Prime Minister Milo Đukanović won the parliamentary elections in Montenegro on 16 October 2016 with 41 per cent of the votes. After winning yet another election in October 2016, ‘father of the nation’ and long-time Prime Minister Milo Đukanović (Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS) resigned after having been in power since 1991. This was the third time Djukanovic ‘left’ politics, despite always remaining very influential as he was believed to be pulling the strings from the backstage. During his breaks in power, he remained leader of the ruling DPS and it is expected that he will continue to be the party leader in the years ahead. His confidant Duško Marović formed a ruling coalition with the SPD split-off Social Democrats (SD) and the national minority parties (Bosnian, Albanian and Croatian). With the 36 seats of the DPS, the 2 seats of the SD and 4 seats of the national minority parties, the ruling coalition has a slight majority of 42 out of 81 seats. The voter turnout on 16 October was 71 per cent despite the flashmob of ‘staying lazy’ on elections day, which was actively spread via social media.
|Party||% of the votes||Seats||Seats 2012|
|Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS)||41.41 %||36||33|
|Democratic Front (DF)||20.32 %||18||20|
|Ključ (Key) Coalition||11.05 %||9||9|
|Democratic Montenegro||10.01 %||8||0*|
|Social Democratic Party (SDP)||5.23 %||4||6|
|Social Democrats||3.26 %||2||0*|
|Bosniak Party||3.16 %||2||1|
|Positive Montenegro||1.32 %||0||7|
|Albanians Decisively||1.27 %||1||0|
|Albanian Coalition||0.89 %||0||1|
|Croatian Civic Initiative||0.47 %||1||0|
*These parties did not compete in the 2012 elections
On 15 April 2018 voters could cast their ballots for the presidential elections. Of the seven candidates, the major candidates were Milo Đukanović of the ruling DPS, independent Mladen Bojanić (who was nevertheless supported by most opposition parties) and Draginja Vuksanović of the SDP. Incumbent president Filip Vujanović is ineligible for re-election. Leading up to the elections, the opposition tried to unite against the long-ruling DPS. Six-time prime minister Đukanović was nominated in early March by the DPS to run. In reaction to this decision most political parties, except for the SDP, united behind Bojanić.
Number of votes
Campaign and election
The long rule of Đukanović’s DPS was one of the central issues of the campaign. After serving once as president and six times as prime minister, most of the opposition parties wanted Mladen Bojanic to end his continuous rule. Bojanic accused the veteran leader of ‘’capturing the state." Many of the current problems, like the recent wave of violence caused by criminal organizations, have existed in Montenegro since the start of the rule of Đukanović according to Bojanic. "I agree with Đukanović that the state is stronger than the mafia. But the problem is that I do not know which side he is on."
Although the vote was relatively free, monitoring groups like CEMI and CT, reported voter irregularities at numerous polling stations. Members of the DPS were seen recording voters outside polling stations, possibly pressuring them. In the town of Berane, there were reports of possible vote-buying. Even very limited manipulation can have a major influence on the result: Montenegro is a small country and only 180.000 people voted for Đukanović which results in 53.9 per cent of the vote.
Social Democratic Parties
News and analysis
- BETA News Agency
- Civilitas Research
- Freedom house
- Institute for war and peace reporting
- Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty
- Transitions Online
- BBC country profile
- CIA world factbook
- United Nations – common country assessment
- US Department of State
- European Commission Serbia and Montenegro - Stabilisation and Association Report 2004
- European Union’s external relations with Serbia and Montenegro
- Commission Report 2012