Upheaval in Montenegro

After thirty years in power, the rule of president Milo Đukanović in Montenegro appears to be at an end. Sunday’s parliamentary election (see my preview here) has produced a narrow opposition majority, and the three opposition parties have announced a plan to co-operate in forming government.

Official results show Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) with 35.1% of the vote, down 6.3% from 2016. The three opposition tickets have 50.6% between them: For the Future of Montenegro (right-wing) 32.5%, Peace is Our Nation (centrist) 12.5% and United Reform Action (centre-left) 5.5%.

The remainder of the vote is split between two rival social democratic parties (4.1% and 3.1%) and five parties representing ethnic minorities (Albanians, Bosniaks and Croats). The ethnic minority parties have supported Đukanović in the past (although the opposition is now trying to win them over), while the social democrats split on that question prior to the 2016 election.

But even if the DPS can bring all the others on side, that still only brings it up to 40 seats, one behind the combined opposition total. (I can’t find an official version of the seat allocation, but the media reports all agree.*) Đukanović’s term runs to 2023, but constitutionally the president is just a figurehead; if the numbers in parliament hold, he will have no choice but to appoint an opposition government.

Although the ideological diversity within the opposition is considerable, to say the least, they have a common interest in dismantling the autocratic state that Đukanović has built up. They have promised to form a “government of experts”, and to continue with the country’s path towards European Union membership.

They have also pledged to revise the “law on religious freedom” passed last year, which provides a path for the government to confiscate property belonging to the Serbian orthodox church. The law has been the biggest recent topic of controversy [link added] in Montenegro and was no doubt responsible for turning a critical mass of opinion against Đukanović – which is not to say it will be easy for the opposition to agree on how to fix it.

Thirty-year rulers do not usually give up power easily, so there are real risks in the next couple of weeks. The government has tight control over the country’s institutions, and it may try to subvert the result in some way. Both the opposition and the international community need to be on their guard.

For the moment, though, it’s an encouraging demonstration that, even in difficult circumstances, the voice of the people can still be heard.


* I also can’t get either a D’Hondt or a Sainte-Laguë calculation on the vote totals to yield exactly that distribution of seats; presumably the allocations to the ethnic minority parties distort it in a way that I haven’t quite been able to allow for (the differences are very small). Turnout was 76.7%, very high for the Balkans and up 3.3% on 2016.

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