By Nemanja Batrićević (Central European University)

Montenegro remains the only European post-communist country governed by the same party since the introduction of political pluralism. For the tenth time since 1990, citizens of Montenegro have had the opportunity to hold parliamentary elections. On October 16th, 387.765 citizens casted a ballot (73.3%) in elections that, as depicted by the opposition leaders, were to become a turning point in the short democratic history of Montenegro. Despite running without the Social Democratic Party (SDP), for the first time after 18 years, Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) maintained its dominant position. The DPS won 41.4% votes casted (36/81 seats), followed by the Democratic Front (DF) – 20.2% (18 seats), the Grand coalition Key (DEMOS, SNP and URA) – 11% (9 seats), the Democrats – 9.9% (8 seats), the SDP – 5.2% (4 seats), the Bosniak’s Party – 3.2% (2 seats), the Socialdemocrats – 3.2% (2 seats), and the two ethnic political parties – Albanian Coalition (Force, DUA, AA) – 1.2% (1 seat), and Croatian Civic Initiative – 0.4 % (1 seat). Once again, Montenegro fell short of the long-expected electoral surprise.

The New Government
Immediately after the results were officially reported, it became apparent that the anticipated 41st Government of Montenegro would be composed of DPS, Socialdemocrats, and ethnic minority parties (Bosniaks, Albanians, and Croats). Although mathematically possible, it was unreasonable to expect that the representatives of ethnic minorities would even engage in serious negotiations with the opposition, led by the Serb-dominated Democratic Front. If not for reasons of historical animosity between ethnic groups, then because of inflamatory rhetorics DF used against certain minority groups (Bosniaks and Albanians) during the election day, in order to mobilize its electorate. The opposition, thus, once more became a victim of intra-opposition clash over the same portion of electorate.

On November 28th, following elevation of intensity in negotations, the Parliament of Montenegro elected the new government. The government was supported by 42 MPs, out of 81. Six out of 19 ministers come from parties other than DPS. Undoubtedly, ethnic minority parties gained the most in these elections. With a total vote share of 4.8%, they have been handed 4 ministers and one vice-prime minister positions.

The main novelty, however, is that the new prime minister will not be Milo Đukanović, but Duško Marković, who was previously the vice-prime minister for political system, domestic and foreign policy. This is the third time Đukanović withdraws from official politics. The first two times, in 2006 and 2010, he was replaced as PM by Željko Šturanović and Igor Lukšić. Still, both times the DPS was unable to affectively mobilize the electorate without Đukanović’s charisma. Therefore, in order to secure the dominant position of the party, he was forced to come back and actively rule the country. This time, however, the chances of him staying out of active politics are significantly higher.

Unlike Šturanović and Lukšić, who are perceived by the general public as weak leaders, Marković takes office from a position of a well established and high ranked DPS official. Before being a vice-prime minister, he served as the Minister of Justice, and as the Chief of the National Security Agency. Under the assumptions that the DPS will continue with the «defense of Montenegrin statehood» rhetoric, Marković appears as someone whose personality can carry this message much more successfully. Furthermore, Đukanović’s withrawal seems to be better prepared this time around. The new PM was not a result of intra-party compromise between factions. The main faction opposing omnipotent leadership of Đukanović, led by former party president Svetozar Marović, is now de facto out of power. In other words, the stage is ready for Marković to take over without any reservations within the party.

The future of party competition
Without a doubt, the following months or even years will be marked by an increased level of political instability in Montenegro. The ruling DPS has secured only a «thin majority», while the oppositon actively contests the government’s legitimacy due to alleged terrorist plot on election day, allegedly organized by Russian FSB and carried out by Serbian nationalists. The opposition claims that the DPS strategically placed these stories in order to affect electoral results; it is, further, threatening to stay out of the Parliament until re-elections take place. While the likelihood of potential early elections is still uncertain, it seems reasonable to expect that the DPS will try at some point to consolidate power by organizing early parliamentary together with presidential elections, scheduled in 2018.

Previous elections were traditionally contested over the main political cleavage in Montenegro, which is ethnic; Serbs vs. the others. This divide currently seems to be manifested through opposing perception of Montenegro’s statehood. Consequently, this issue remained the most salient one in these elections as well, which poses the question: how will the future of party competition in Montenegro look like after this election? For one, significant changes will occur as a result of the SDP not being part of the government (first time after almost two decades). The SDP is a party of undoubtedly independentist orientation, marked by strong patriotic appeal. This will make it harder for the DPS to depict the opposition at large as Serbian “fifth column”. In turn, we might expect to see diversification electorate attracted by the opposition. Before these elections, electoral volatility in Montenegro was comparably high, but limited exclusively to shifts within – not between – two political blocks. In these elections, we witnessed a shy spillover of disappointed Montenegrin votes to the other side, and not only to the SDP. Also, despite the opposition’s commitment to stay out of the Parliament for the time being, the SDP made it clear that they will, in the name of national interests, return to the Parliament in order to vote in favor of NATO integration in Montenegro.

The grand coalition Ključ (Key), which tried to bridge ethnic division by a pre-election coalition between one “pro-Montenegrin” and two mildly “pro-Serbian” parties, represents an interesting test of a potential shift in issues around which Montenegrin parties compete. Namely, they were obviously punished by both flanks, and failed epically in their initial intent to draw support from two sides of statehood cleavage.

While one might, based on this, jump into the conclusion that any coalition between Montenegrin and Serbian parties is doomed by default, I do not subscribe to this opinion. On the contrary, it is quite possible that the reason why Ključ failed comes not from their ethnic backgrounds, but rather from the lack of strong nationalistic pedigree. Namely DEMOS, SNP and URA are the official civic parties, which constantly downplay ethnic cards. Many voters perceive them, if at all, as “soft” national options. What if it is not up to them to bridge this ethnic division? Maybe what Montenegro needs in order to overcome opsession with identity politics is, paradoxically, a coalition between two more radical national options, each of them with enough “patriotic” capital to negotiate the consiliation.

Many tend to forget that Montenegro has previously experienced such scenario. In 1996, the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro, a traditionally pro-independence party, entered a coalition with the conservative pro-unionist People’s Party. This coalition (People’s Concord), under the slogan «Return the money» (Vratite pare) was very successful (27%) and, if it was not for large-scale electoral manipulation, they would have threaten the DPS even more seriously. These two parties, unlike the Ključ, had the luxury of proposing a shift towards socio-economic issues without losing any of their national appeal.

In conclusion, although many may be dissatisfied with the results of these elections, it is clear that not everything remained the same afterwards. For one, it is clear, more than ever, that the DPS is losing their grip and ability to control the electorate. The amount of resources needed to secure dominance is constantly rising from elections to elections. Furthermore, with the SDP sitting in opposing benches, they will not be able to paint the whole opposition with the broad brush of “traitors” so easily. Euro-atlantic integrations, a huge national project of the previous DPS-SDP coalition, is coming to a turning point with likely NATO membership (and with it “secured statehood”). Last and definitely not the least, the DPS will have to face these adversities with Đukanović officially out of politics (at least for the time being). In time of great uncertainty, which lies ahead for Montengro, one thing seems irrefutable – we entered a new era of Montenegrin politics.

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