Milo Djukanovic, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), won another term as president during the elections on April 15th. According to official results, the veteran leader secured 53,9 percent of the votes, enough to win the elections in the first round. The turnout was with 63 percent similar to the 2013 presidential election. His direct opponent, Mladen Bojanic, an independent candidate supported by most of the opposition parties, secured 33.4 percent of the vote. A historic first was the participation of Draginja Vuksanovic of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the first female candidate. She gained 8.1 percent, which is double the figure her party scored during the last elections. Although these elections were less tense than the parliamentary vote of last year, after the alleged coup plot, the outcome is still significant. Djukanovic may as president only have a ceremonial role on paper, his presidency will signal the continuous rule of his DPS.
Campaign and election
The long rule of Djukanovic’s DPS was one of the central issues of the campaign. After serving ones as president and six times as prime minister, most of the opposition parties supported Mladen Bojanic in order 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 Djukanovic according to Bojanic. “I agree with Djukanovic that the state is stronger than the mafia. But the problem is that I do not know which side he is on.”
Bojanic therefore presented himself as the alternative to the DPS rule. However the independent candidate was not a viable choice for many citizens. Since the alleged pro-Russian coup plan in 2016 and accession of the Adriatic country into NATO, Montenegro has been divided over the direction of the country’s foreign policy. Bojanic ran his platform with support of pro-Russian parties, while Djukanovic is setting the country on the path of joining the European Union.
The bipolar nature of the elections was however undermined by the participation Draginja Vuksanovic of the Social Democratic Party. The SDP broke in 2016 openly with the DPS after being part of the ruling coalition since 1998. Giving the Montenegrins a third option.
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 Djukanovic which results in 53,9 percent of the vote.
Rule of the DPS
The Djukanovic and the DPS have ruled Montenegro since the first multiparty elections in 1991. Djukanovic remained back then a close ally of rump Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic until beginning to cut his own path in 1998, eventually leading Montenegro into independence from Serbia in 2006. Another controversial episode out of the long rule of the party has been the alleged close ties to organized crime. In 2009 Djukanovic was named in probe looking into extensive smuggling activities during the Yugoslav wars.
Even though Djukanovic has slowly changed the course of the party and his country towards a pro-European liberal stance, last couples of years has been marked by criticism of his authoritarian leadership style. Many organizations in and outside the Balkan country have accused the government of repressing press freedom and critical voices against the government.