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Montenegro

After peacefully surviving 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 a 2006 referendum, a majority of 55.5 percent declared to be in favour of independence, narrowly passing the official 55 per cent threshold. Two years later, Montenegro applied for EU membership and the accession negotiations started in 2012. On the one hand, the country has relatively good relations with other countries in South-East Europe. It 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, 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 only recently experienced its first change of power. Under the rule of Milo Đukanović, who has been prime minister four times and president twice, Montenegro has faced severe accusations of authoritarianism and clientelism. While Montenegro is seeking closer ties with the West economically and politically, its economy also remains dependent on the East. The country is heavily dependent on Russian tourists and investments, while, with its massive highway construction project, the country is under threat of becoming “debt dependent” on China. As its economy relies on tourism, Montenegro was struck especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy shrank by 15% in 2020.

After the August 2020 elections, Montenegro saw its first change of power since its independence in 2006. The country had been ruled by President Milo Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) up until then. It remained the largest party, but was blocked by a coalition of five different, mostly pro-Serb political forces, of which the largest is also composed of six parties. They managed to form a technocratic government, with a slim majority of only one seat. The coalition was spearheaded by Zdravko Krivokapic, representing the For the Future of Montenegro Party. He was installed as prime minister in December of 2020, but quickly faced an almost insurmountable challenge, regarding Montenegro’s poor financial situation, which was exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its Chinese debt.

In February 2022, after only 14 months in power, the Krivokapic government fell after a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Several issues alluded to a government collapse. Coalition partners disagreed over several issues, primarily the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), the handling of ties with Serbia and Russia, and the stagnant EU accession procedure. Krivokapic’s appeasement of the SOC in Cetinje in September 2021 enraged thousands and caused mass demonstrations. Divisions in the coalition also arose when Krivokapic intended to replace justice minister Leposavić after he denied the Srebrenica genocide.

On April 28, 2022, the leader of the Black and White bloc (URA), Dritan Abazović, replaced Krivokapic as the Prime Minister of Montenegro, with a mandate for a year. His moderate minority government, which the DPS agreed to support, consists of the URA bloc, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Bosniak Party and two ethnic Albanian coalitions. They were intended to form the government until the spring of 2023, when new elections were scheduled to take place.

However, Abazović caused disagreements within the coalition due to his prioritisation of ties with Serbia over those with the EU. This even led the Minister of European Affairs, Jovana Marović, to resign. Finally, after an agreement between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the government collapsed in August 2022 after parliament backed a vote of no-confidence called by the party of President Milo Djukanovic and smaller parties in the ruling coalition, worsening the country’s political instability. The administration led by Abazovic, became the government with the shortest period in power in Montenegrin political history. A new government failed to form, which led President Đukanović to dissolve the Montenegrin Parliament on the 16th of March 2023, right before the presidential elections on the 19th of March.

These presidential elections again marked a historic change of power as Jakov Milatović, representing the anti-corruption and pro-European Europe Now! party, outperformed former president Milo Đukanović, who had ruled Montenegro for more than three decades and had often been accused of clientelism and corruption. President Milatović, who previously served as the minister of economic development in Krivokapić’s cabinet, assumed office on the 20th of May 2023. Milatović strongly supports accession to the EU, but also advocates for closer ties with Serbia.

As Parliament had been dissolved, new parliamentary elections were held on the 11th of June 2023. As with the presidential elections, Europe Now! secured a victory by winning most seats, being 24 out of 81. This marked another significant loss for the DPS, which finished second. The Europe Now party is seeking to form a governing coalition after coming first in recent elections, but potential partners will drive a hard bargain. Milojko Spajic, the head of the centrist Europe Now, which came first in the June elections but didn’t get an outright majority, is negotiating with Democratic Montenegro, the Socialist People’s Party and minority parties in order to secure the necessary majority of 41 MPs in the 81-seat parliament. Reports suggested that Spajic will also try to include the proSerb For the Future of Montenegro bloc in the ruling majority, but has refused to negotiate with the former ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists, or with the URA civic movement, led by outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic.

Key Info

1 Political Situation

1.1: Delicate position between the West and the East

 

Montenegro became a NATO member in June 2017. The country is also a candidate country for the EU. Out of the 35 negotiation chapters, three have been provisionally closed, and 32 have been opened. 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.

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 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Montenegro, unlike Serbia, joined EU sanctions against Moscow, sent aid to Ukraine, and expelled a number of Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.

Montenegro signed an association agreement with the EU in 2007, applied for membership in December 2008 and garnered candidate membership in December 2010. Accession negotiations began in June 2012. The European Commission writes in its 2023 enlargement report that serious steps are needed especially in the area of rule of law. Judicial reforms have not been implemented and are delaying negotiations. Corruption and organised crime are both major challenges for Montenegro, and corruption reaches high in state structures. Progress in these areas is very limited. Fundamental rights are largely guaranteed, but society (including media landscape) is very polarised which still leads to much discrimination, towards LGBTIQ+, women and Roma. Economically, Montenegro has made little progress and is moderately prepared for the competitive pressures and market forces of the EU single market. Montenegro is active in regional cooperation and its foreign policy is in line with that of the EU. Partly due to political instability, Montenegro has recently been able to make few steps in their package of reforms. Interim governments did not prioritise EU issues. The question is whether this will change in the near future given the unstable composition of the new government that was recently inaugurated.

 

1.2: Montenegro after its independence from Serbia

 

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.

 

1.3: The fragile Krivakopić cabinet

 

After the 2020 elections, an awkward coalition formed between several parties to put Đukanović’s DPS into opposition. It ended Đukanović’s 30 year rule in Montenegro. The coalition was spearheaded by the independent new prime minister Zdravko Krivakopić, and included a variety of parties, the pro-Serbian Democratic Montenegro (DCG) and liberal United Reform Action (URA) standing out. Krivakopić was a major figure in the 2020 Montenegrin protests after Đukanović tried to curb the power of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in the country. The relation with Serbia proved to be an important issue again for the new coalition. And quickly, relations between coalition parties soured due to geopolitical relations and a lack of economic progress.

In Cetinje, 2021, protests broke out after the SOC wanted to inaugurate a new metropolitan. Krivakopić and DCG tried to appease the situation, while URA asked for the ceremony to be organised elsewhere. On the other hand, a justice minister was voted from office after he denied the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Pro-Serbian elements in the coalition called the decision to let the minister of ‘voter fraud’, sparking anger in the coalition. Lastly, Krivakopić’s stance towards coronavirus vaccination caused unrest in the coalition, as he allegedly refused to be inoculated. He also refused to wear a mask on several occasions.

The EU accession process remained stalled. The Krivakopić cabinet hoped to speed the process up with the removal of Đukanović, however this proved to be in vain as political bickering has only made a possible EU accession increasingly difficult. In January 2022, URA filed a vote of no-confidence against Krivakopić and his cabinet. On February 5, 2022, the coalition fell.

 

1.4: April 2022 – August 2022 – A short-lived minority coalition

 

The leader of the Black and White bloc (URA), Dritan Abazović, was elected on April 28, 2022 as the new Prime Minister of
Montenegro, with a mandate for a year. His minority government consists of the URA bloc, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Bosniak Party and two ethnic Albanian coalitions. They planned to form the government until the spring of 2023, when new elections were scheduled to take place.

His former coalition partners, the pro-Serbian ‘For the Future of Montenegro’ and “Peace is Our Nation”, accused Abazović of betrayal and boycotted the vote. 45 members of the 81-seat Montenegrin Parliament voted in favour of the new minority coalition.

Abazović said he finally wanted to speed up EU integration. He is considered a pro-democratic, liberal and moderate in the Montenegrin political landscape. He said: “I will lead an active political dialogue to improve the atmosphere in society and reduce the country’s polarisation. I do not agree that Montenegro should be divided into two opposing sides, but develop as a civil state with respect for all differences.”

The DPS of Dukanovic saw a return to power in the new minority government, as it would deliver key political support from the opposition. A DPS MP reacted delightedly: “Despite expectations, we didn’t disappear from the political scene. At the moment, the DPS supports this government, but we will return to power at full capacity in a very short period of time.”

Five issues were considered to be key to the new government, according to Abazović: EU integration, battling corruption, sustainable investment and development, protection of the environment and better care for children and the youth. All eyes in Montenegro are on the EU integration process – especially now a window of opportunity looms due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, Russian, and especially Serbian influence remains of importance in the country.

The government of Abazović became the shortest-running administration in Montenegrin history after a motion of no-confidence on August 20, 2022 was accepted. The political instability in Montenegro was set to continue as the same parties and blocs that formed a coalition after the 2020 elections were planning to form a new government until the general elections in 2023. This coalition was composed of various pro-Serbian parties from the ‘Democratic Front’ and ‘Peace is Our Nation’ coalitions, next to the Socialist People’s Party and Abazović’ URA. These parties have a slender majority in Montenegro’s parliament (41-40 seats). However, this new government failed to form, which led President Đukanović to dissolve the Montenegrin Parliament on the 16th of March 2023. As Parliament had been dissolved, new parliamentary elections were held on the 11th of June 2023.

 

1.5: The new government after June’s elections

 

In June’s elections, Europe Now! secured a victory by winning most seats, being 24 out of 81. This marked another significant loss for the DPS, which finished second. The Europe Now party is seeking to form a governing coalition after coming first in recent elections, but potential partners will drive a hard bargain. Milojko Spajic, the head of the centrist Europe Now, which came first in the June elections but didn’t get an outright majority, is negotiating with Democratic Montenegro, the Socialist People’s Party and minority parties in order to secure the necessary majority of 41 MPs in the 81-seat parliament. Reports suggested that Spajic will also try to include the proSerb For the Future of Montenegro bloc in the ruling majority, but has refused to negotiate with the former ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists, or with the URA civic movement, led by outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic.

 

1.6: The emergence of the Europe Now party

 

In both recent elections, the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2023, the Europe Now party, which was only formed in September 2022, secured significant victories. The party runs on a liberal, pro-EU accession platform and is largely considered pro-Western. Oddly, some party members have also advocated for improving ties with Serbia. Whichever direction, a difficult task awaits the Europe Now-party. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic – which shrunk the economy by 15% – Podgorica is plagued by its dependence on trade and tourism from Russia and a large debt with China.

Despite its hopeful anti-corruption and pro-European sentiments, its rise to power might be less positive than it might seem. The party has economic plans for extraordinarily high popular spending, for example on pensions and minimum wage. Experts deem these plans unviable in over-indebted Montenegro. Some fear the populist tendencies of this party and what will happen after they have been in power for a period of time. If they end up exploiting the state treasury, this could lead to economic crises which are unfortunately very likely to fuel far-right, anti-EU, and pro-Russian sentiments.

 

1.7: Female representation and women’s rights

 

Women remain significantly underrepresented in Montenegrin politics. At the 2018 presidential election, Draginja Vuksanović-Stanković became the first female presidential candidate in the history of the country, and also appeared in the 2023 presidential election campaign. Despite such improvements, Montenegro lags behind other Western-Balkan countries. As such, the Women’s Political Network (WPN) Montenegro is one of the organisations that has been strongly pushing to increase the current 27% share of female politicians to at least 30%.

Women continue to be discriminated against in Montenegro’s patriarchal society. Especially when it comes to work, there is a large gap to be bridged. Despite being a better-educated part of society, women continue to participate much more in unpaid work and household care. It is therefore no surprise that 60 percent of Montenegrin citizens believe that it is preferable for a man to work and for a woman to dedicate herself to the family.

In 2021, the Montenegrin Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority rights adopted a National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2025. According to the European External Action Service, the operative goals of the strategy are to “improve the implementation of the existing normative framework regarding gender equality policy and protection against gender-based discrimination, as well as to improve education, culture, and media policies in order to reduce the level of stereotypes and prejudices towards women and persons of different gender identities. The final operative goal is to increase the participation of women and persons of different gender identities in areas that provide access to natural and social resources and the benefits of their use.”

 

1.8: LGBTI rights

 

When it comes to LGBTI rights legislation in Montenegro, much can still be improved. The country was ranked 11th out of all 48 European countries when it came to LGBTI rights legislation. Homosexuality has been legal in Montenegro since 1977 and its parliament took an important step in July of 2020, when it voted to recognize same-sex unions as of July 2021. In 2010, several laws were already adapted that prohibited discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity. This was a requirement for EU membership. However, same-sex marriage was declared unconstitutional when the country’s constitution was adopted in 2007. Nothing has changed in that regard.

The LGBTI community also continues to face challenges. The progressive legislation has yet to result in more general acceptance of the LGBTI community among Montenegro’s population. Despite the important step that was taken in 2020, still 71% of Montenegrins declared that they considered homosexuality an illness. 50% also believed that it was a danger to society and needed to be oppressed by the state. As such, many cases of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people remain unreported. As the country is very small, the gay scene also is. A notable NGO is Queer Montenegro, which organises the annual Pride parades, which are held despite strong opposition and threats from the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.

2 Elections

2.1: Electoral System

 

For parliamentary elections, Montenegro uses a closed list proportional representation (CLPR) system. With 81 seats in parliament, the voting threshold for most parties, except for minority lists, is 3 percent. These elections are normally held every four years and voting is not compulsory. There is a legislative quote of 30% for women. 

For presidential elections, in case no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second runoff between the two first placed candidates is held.

 

2.2: Parliamentary elections

 

The Montenegrin electorate most recently went to the polls on Sunday 11 June 2023 for the parliamentary election, the first since the ousting of power of longtime leader Milo Đukanović and the earlier defeat of his Democratic Party of Socialists in 2020. The election – which was held early because of a fall of government and a subsequent stalemate – was won by the new Europe Now! Party, led by Milojko Spajić and newly elected President Jakov Milatović. With the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) becoming the second largest party by a small margin, however, it remains to be seen who will gather enough support to form a government. These elections marked the first time the DPS failed to win most seats since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1990. Whoever will form a government has to face the challenge of restoring confidence in politics: voter turnout on Sunday was at a record low of 56.4%, a significant decrease compared to the 2020 parliamentary elections, when the turnout was 73.4%.

Europe Now! obtained roughly 25.6% of the votes, equaling 24 out of 81 parliamentary seats. An alliance consisting of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and a number of allied parties, meanwhile, came in as a close second with 23,2% of the votes, equaling 21 seats.

The biggest electoral loss of the day belonged to the alliance of pro-Russian and pro-Serbian parties called For the Future of Montenegro. While the alliance finished third with 14.7%which accounts for 13 seats – this constitutes a loss of nearly 20% compared to the 2020 parliamentary election. The number of seats will, correspondingly, be halved. Democratic Montenegro – led by outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic – had to settle for 12.3% and 11 seats. Other significant results include the 1.9% of Albanian List and 1.5% of Albanian Coalition, which grants them 2 and 1 seats respectively because of ethical quota.

The result is a disappointment for Montenegro’s Social Democratic Party. While obtaining roughly 2.9% of the votes, this means the social democrats will stay just under the electoral threshold of 3% due to the highly complex quota system in Montenegrin politics

 

Election results

 

Party Seats
Europe Now! (PES)  24
Together! (DPS, SD)  21
For the Future of Montenegro (NSD, DNP)  13
Aleksa and Dritan – Bravery Counts (DCG, URA)  11
 Bosniak Party (BS)  6
For You Coalition (​​SNP, Demos)  2
Albanian Forum (ASh, LDs)  2
Albanian Alliance (FORCA)  1
 Croatian Civic Initiative (HGI)  1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.3: Presidential elections

 

After years of economic hardship and insatiable governments, Montenegro held presidential elections on Sunday, March 19 2023. At stake was the political career of Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s political leader for nearly three decades. In Montenegro, most power lies with the Prime Minister, as the President fulfils a relatively ceremonial role.

Among the most promising candidates challenging the incumbent Djukanovic were Andrija Mandic and Aleksa Becic, leaders of the ruling Democratic Front and Democratic Montenegro respectively. Europe Now’s Jakov Milatovic was also seen as a contender.

With 35 percent of the votes, Đukanović obtained the most votes in the first round. With 29 percent, however, second placed Jakov Milatović came closer to Đukanović than expected. The result meant that the pro-Russian and pro-Serbian Andrija Mandić – who obtained around 19 percent of the votes – was out of the race. Democratic Montenegro-leader Aleksa Bečić collected 11 percent, while the opposition candidates Draginja Stankovic and Goran Danilović took 3 and 1.4 percent respectively. 

Soon after admitting his defeat, Andrija Mandić called on his supporters to vote for Milatović. Since other candidates were expected to do the same, experts were seeing Milatovic as a strong favourite for the run-off.

On Sunday April 2, Jakov Milatović (Europe Now) – who was supported by the ruling majority – won the runoff round of the Montenegrin presidential election. This ended incumbent Milo Đukanović’ (Democratic Party of Socialists) three-decade spell in prominent government positions. While Montenegro is expected to maintain its pro-EU course, critics are sceptical about the economic woes and corruption issues Milatović will inherit, as well as his pro-Serbian agenda. Rumour has it he is supported by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The result rendered expert predictions correct, as Milatović obtained a strong majority with 60,1% of the vote against 39,9% for Đukanović. With 70,7%, voter turnout for this election was notably higher than the presidential election of 2018 (63%). According to two election watchdogs, the run-off round was marked by several irregularities. Party activists were reportedly seen recording and giving money to voters. Đukanović’ DPS, furthermore, claimed that its activists were intimidated in the towns of Niksić and Bar.

 

Election results — 1st round

 

Candidate Percentage (%) 
Jakov Milatović  28.92
Milo Đukanović  35.37
Andrija Mandić  19.32
Aleksa Bečić  11.10
Draginja Vuksanović 3.15
Goran Danilović  1.38
Jovan Radulović  0.76
Voter turnout  64.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Election results — 2nd round

 

Party Percentage (%)
Jakov Milatović   58.88
Milo Đukanović              41.12
Voter turnout 70.14

 

 

 

3 Political Parties


Social Democratic Parties

sdp_montenegro_logo
Social Democratic Party (SDP)
Party Leader: Raško Konjević
Number of seats: 0
social_democrats_of_montenegro_logo
Social Democrats of Montenegro (SD)
Party Leader: Ivan Brajovic
Number of seats: 3


Other Parties

Logo_of_the_Europe_Now
Europe Now! (PES)
Party Leader: Milojko Spajić
Number of seats: 30
dps
Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS)
Party Leader: Danijel Živković
Number of seats: 21
newserb
New Serbian Democracy (NSD)
Party Leader: Andrija Mandić
Number of seats: 9
demokratska_crna_gora_logo
Democratic Montenegro (DCG)
Party Leader: Aleksa Bečić
Number of seats: 7
The Bosniak Party (BS)
Party Leader: Ervin Ibrahimović
Number of seats: 6
dpp
Democratic People's Party (DNP)
Party Leader: Milan Knežević
Number of seats: 4
ujedinjenareformskaakcija
Civic Movement United Reform Action (URA)
Party Leader: Dritan Abazović
Number of seats: 4
socialist_people_s_party_of_montenegro
Socialist People’s Party (SNP)
Party Leader: Vladimir Jokovic
Number of seats: 2
united_montenegro
United Montenegro (UCG)
Party Leader: Goran Danilović
Number of seats: 1
Albanian_Alternative
Albanian Alternative (ASh)
Party Leader: Nik Gjeloshaj
Number of seats: 1
Forca_logo-1
FORCA
Party Leader: Genci Nimanbegu
Number of seats: 1
HGI_logo_new
The Croatian Civic Initiative
Party Leader: Adrian Vuksanović
Number of seats: 1

4 Biographies

Screenshot 2023-08-02 at 15.26.11
Jakov Milatović
President
25287865463_95104cce96_c
Dritan Abazović
Outgoing Prime Minister
milo_djukanovic
Milo Đukanović
Former President
zdravko_krivokapi_1
Zdravko Krivokapić
Former Prime Minister
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