Exploring the Fault lines in the Montenegro General Elections

On the August 30th, the Balkan country of Montenegro held a vote which will determine the fate of the country and the thirty-year-old rule of Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS. Will the party spend another four-year tenure as the majority or will these elections pave the way for a coalition led by smaller, regional parties and pro-Serbia political parties? The opinion poll made us believe that though the DPS will dominate the vote share, it will have to form a coalition of get a majority in the parliament.

Image source: AP

The results of the first exit polls state a similar reality. Based on 87.3 per cent of counted votes, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, won 34.8 per cent of votes cast, or 29 of the 81 seats in parliament in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the party’s worst result since it came to power. Right behind DPS is its main opposition “For the Future of Montenegro” coalition, which won 32.8 per cent of the votes, or 27 seats. Another opposition coalition, “Peace is Our Nation”, won 12.5 per cent of the votes. These results are intimidating for the ruling DPS as it has to seek out smaller parties to fulfil the majority requirement, whereas the main opposition just has to reach the consensus with the other two pro-Serb oppositions to gain the majority. The leader of the pro-Serbian coalition, “For the Future of Montenegro” Zdravko Krivokapic, told supporters: “The regime has fallen,” as things look up for the opposition.

These elections were fought on four key issues; religion, national identity, the Pandemic and the fight against corruption. The most important of these being the religious issue of the State’s relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church which triggered a huge wave of protests for a month and holds the power to sway these elections. In December, the DSP led government passed a law which the Church claims will result to seizure of its lands by the real estate. During the electoral campaign, the DPS accused the Serbian Orthodox Church of directly supporting the pro-Serbian opposition bloc, and vowed to defend Montenegrin society from what it said was the threat of rising nationalism. “They want to illuminate our path to the future with the Church’s medieval dogmas. I don’t believe in that path! I am convinced that behind that are evil intentions towards Montenegro,” Djukanovic told a DPS convention in Tivat. The people in support of the Church believe that Montenegro should align itself with the more orthodox Christian Slavic world, which is pro-Belgrade and pro-Russian, which makes the DSP, a clearly pro-Western party reluctant to give the Church so much power.

This brings us to another issue which has divided the country. That is the decision of the Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, to join the NATO and then eventually the European Union. The main opposition, For Future of Montenegro, was completely against the Prime Minister’s joining NATO and in favour of establishing closer ties with Russia. In the last general elections of Montenegro, on the eve of the poll, police arrested a cabal of alleged Russian agents, Serbs and Montenegrin nationals that had planned to stage a coup d’état, kill the country’s Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, and bring a pro-Moscow government to power. As of 2017, Montenegro is now a member of the NATO. The opinions of the Montenegrins are split evenly on this issue. On the question of independence, 55.5% voted for independence from Serbia in 2006, leaving 44.5% of the country that did not. The people are similarly divided: 54% of the population, for example, support joining the EU, down from almost 67% just two years ago.

Image source: Reuters

The elections of Montenegro is also geopolitically important in the Balkans as it represents the divide that has wedged in the Western Balkans. “Montenegro is a litmus test. Paying attention to Montenegro lets you understand what this divergence is about. These are cleavages that have existed for decades, if not centuries, and now they are entrenched. Now it is a matter of: ‘You are either with us or against us’ – compromise may actually not be on the cards,” Sinisa Vukovic, a senior lecturer at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, said.

The Montenegro elections during the Pandemic has prompted the parties to also ensure that the campaigning has been conforming to the physical distancing norms. In its pre-election report, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights observation mission said that campaign has generally been peaceful and low-profile. “Due to the COVID-19 restrictions and public health concerns, the contestants significantly modified their campaign strategies with more focus on online and social media rather than traditional campaign methods,” said the report published on August 19.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Apoorva Mishra

Apoorva Mishra is a Former Journalism Intern at The Kootneeti

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