Upcoming elections continue to split Montenegrin politics

Thu 31 Mar 2016

Upcoming elections continue to split Montenegrin politics

Montenegro's political leaders are to resume talks on resolving the crisis that has kept the country at boiling point for more than a year. It’s the worst political conflict since it gained independence in 2006 and revolves around the opposition’s claim that the government has no legitimacy to organize the next general elections. Next week, another meeting is meant to resolve the crisis, which followed the failure of a no-confidence vote in the government in January.

Ongoing political conflict
Montenegrin politics is divided along many lines. There is continuous distrust between the opposition and the coalition government, but both ‘blocks’ are also internally divided. The opposition and government parties disagree about how the next elections should be organised. According to the opposition the government cannot be trusted to organise the next elections because of previous fraud. In addition, the conflict caused cracks in the otherwise stable government coalition, which ruled for over fifteen years. For the first time, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) are seriously divided. The DPS is the biggest party and is led by PM Milo Djukanovic, the SDP’s leader is speaker of parliament, Ranko Krivokapic. While the coalition falters, the opposition also struggles to unite themselves against the government.

The political crisis has been dragging on for some time now. In January (2015) the opposition alliance Democratic Front (DF), led by Miodrag Lekic, started an initiative to form a technical temporary government. To address the "serious political and economic crisis" and to replace the current rulers. Lekic said he would seek the support of all opposition NGOs and parties as well as parties representing ethnic minorities in parliament. He also invited the junior ruling SDP to join the talks, but excluded the DPS. Lekic stated if the technical government would not be formed, the opposition would radicalize its demands and stage mass protests against the government of PM Djukanovic. Already, in March (2015), the opposition appeared to fall apart. After months of conflicts about how to fight Djukanovic, Lekic announced his resignation. This was dramatic for the opposition because he was considered the only political figure with enough authority and popular support to unite the various opposition parties. In turn, in May (2015), the DPS expressed its frustration that its smaller coalition partner, the SDP, regularly voted together with the opposition. Djukanovic accused the SDP of deceiving the public by remaining part of a government that it wants to "tear down through mechanisms of parliamentary control".

Current negotiations
Next week, Montenegro's leaders resume talks to resolve the conflict and to clarify the organization of upcoming elections. The opposition accuses the government of election fraud and misuse of state funds for party purposes. Therefore it now demands key positions to be able to control the upcoming elections. The opposition wants the formation of a "government of electoral trust", oversight over the National Security Agency, the National Election Commission, the Department of Employment, the Anti-Corruption Agency and the public broadcaster (RTCG). Talks between the DPS and the opposition parties cannot agree over the public broadcaster. The opposition seeks the dismissal of the director and editorial team of the television news programs, whom they accuse of biased reporting. The opposition also wants the post of chief inspector of the National Security Agency because both the public TV and the security agency are considered vulnerable to abuse during election campaigns. However, Djukanovic's party is not ready to give up its influence on them. On the other hand, the leader of the SDP, Krivokapic, said an agreement on conditions for organizing free elections could be reached this week already, if the DPS signs up for it. The coalition’s collaboration seems permanently over now a key condition for Djukanovic’s party, for resuming negotiations, is the dismissal of Krivokapic as speaker of parliament.

International response

While national politics is in an ongoing deadlock, Montenegro is making progress on its ‘Euro-Atlantic Path’. In a meeting with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Krivokapic presented Montenegro’s transition processes and constitutional reforms. He stated: “By continuous development of its capacities and implementation of its constitutional jurisdiction, the Parliament has become a new public good of overall democracy in Montenegro. […] The rule of law is a prerequisite for economic and social development and ultimately the development of the country by the standards of Euro-Atlantic community, which is Montenegro's foreign policy priority”. EU Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Mogherini, supports Montenegro’s reforms and foreign policy ambitions. She encouraged PM Djukanovic to continue with these efforts, in a meeting in Brussels. It remains to be seen how national policies will affect Montenegro’s international ambitions.

Sources: BalkanInsight, CDM1 and CDM2