Old Town of Budva, where pro-Serbian Democratic Front won absolute power (Source: Flickr, 2018)
The DPS failed to reverse the downward spiral in local elections in 13 municipalities. The party suffered significant losses, including in the capital Podgorica which was previously considered as a DPS stronghold. Đukanović’s dominance in Montenegrin politics seems to be crumbling down after 30 years The result seems likely to accelerate new general elections in Montenegro.
DPS dominance breaks down further in local elections
It was a difficult election for the DPS, which failed to break a trend of losing voters in the local elections on 23 October. Montenegrins went to the polls in 13 municipalities, including the capital Podgorica and popular tourist destination Budva. The DPS managed to retain power in the municipalities of Bar, Bijelo Polje, Rozaje, Žabljak and Plav. However, in almost all municipalities, DPS lost voters. Many votes were also lost in municipalities where DPS remained the largest. For instance, DPS-led coalition lost 40% of its seats in Bijelo Polje municipal council compared to the previous elections.
For the DPS, with a snap national election, there seems to be a painful reality to face. The party that has wielded the sceptre in Montenegro for 30 years seems to have to make way for new parties. If the local elections have taught us anything, and mainly the result in Podgorica, it is that Montenegrins have voted to crack down on corruption.
The relevance of this topic in Montenegro has been contributed to by DPS itself. In recent years, the party has caused several corruption scandals. In 2019, Đukanović was named one of the world’s 20 richest leaders by British daily The Independent, while the origin of his money was labelled ‘mysterious’. In the same year, large-scale anti-corruption protests took place in Montenegro against the DPS-led government at the time. A day before the latest local elections, the Montenegrin parliament voted two caretaker government ministers from DPS out of parliament. Foreign Minister Ranko Krivokapić and Defence Minister Raško Konjević were accused by outgoing Prime Minister Abazović, among others, of operating against the government’s interests.
Change of power in Podgorica and other municipalities
Originally, the DPS has a large constituency in Podgorica, which has by far the most voters in Montenegro. However, Đukanović’s party suffered a painful defeat here, after almost two decades of supremacy, the DPS is handing over the baton to Europe Now! Movement. This movement founded by Former Minister of Economy and Social Welfare Milojko Spajić and economist Jakov Milatović, made its electoral debut and immediately made an impact. The party bases itself on an ideology of pro-Europeanism and economic liberalism, with a focus on EU accession and anti-corruption. The victory allowed the Europe Now! Movement to appoint a mayor for the capital. The Europe Now! Movement will also appoint a mayor in Danilovgrad, recording a second victory in the municipal elections. The DPS, which formed a coalition in Podgorica with several other parties such as the SPD and the SD, failed to win a majority of seats and, according to initial results, the former opposition blocs won 34 seats against 24 from the DPS-led coalition.
Meanwhile, Democratic Front, a pro-Serbian party, can appoint a mayor in Pljevlja and even won absolute power in the important tourist municipality of Budva. Democratic Montenegro will appoint a mayor in Kolasin. In Plužine, a landslide victory was recorded for the People’s Socialist Party of Montenegro. In the new municipality of Zeta, the Democratic Front narrowly failed to capture absolute power.
Results may trigger early parliamentary elections
The people of Montenegro await new parliamentary elections after the previous government led by outgoing prime minister Abazović collapsed after 3.5 months in office. It became the shortest-running administration after a withdrawal of support and no-confidence vote was initiated by DPS, a crucial partner of for the URA-led minority coalition. Following the fall of the government, which exacerbated political instability in Montenegro, President Đukanović proposed early elections on 20 September after refusing to confirm Miodrag Lekić as prime minister. On 29 September, parliament refused to grant Đukanović’s wish. With the latest results, which seem to further curtail the power of the DPS, actors in Montenegrin civil society believe there is a good chance of seeing early new elections. This also seems necessary to bring stability to the politically volatile country on the Adriatic Sea. Slowly, an influential role for Đukanović, who long ago abandoned social democracy for an authoritarian style centred on populist, nationalist and neoliberal ideology, seems to be coming to an end.
Author: Mathieu Neelen