Parliamentary Elections in Montenegro: Anything new?
The early parliamentary elections scheduled for October 14th won't bring any major changes in the Montenegrin political scene. In all likelihood, the ruling coalition will once again win the elections, and the election campaign has emphasised the the lack of a strong opposition. Regardless of the results of the polls, however, the new government will keep the country’s pro-European course. It will also have to face numerous challenges and reforms pointed out by the progress report issued by the European Commission on October 10th.
Old government, old opposition under new names
This year’s election campaign yet again lacks a political party strong enough to undermine the position of the centre-left Coalition for a European Montenegro, which has remained in power since 1998. The formation of the coalition composed of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro lead by Milo Đukanović, the former long-term prime minister and president, and the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, together might even win 48 per cent of the vote. This would again allow it to rule unaided.
The coalition strongly supports the country’s accession to the European Union and NATO. The formation of a new government with a full four-year term in order to deal with the reforms demanded by the EU was the main argument for another pre-term parliamentary election. According to the opposition, however, such a move was only aimed at allowing the government to remain in power for as long as possible.
The main rival of the ruling coalition is the newly created Democratic Front. As with most Montenegrin political parties, the core of its programme is the contention of the government. It postulates the fight against corruption, the launching of the lustration process, and more welfare state. By supporting accession to the EU and opposing integration with NATO, it responds to the mood of public opinion. In September 2012, as many as 38 per cent of Montenegrins were against joining the NATO, while only 37 per cent supported it. At the same time, 60 per cent favoured integration with the EU.
Nevertheless, the Democratic Front will not pose a threat to the ruling coalition and may win no more than 20 per cent of the vote. Additionally, because of the lack of a comprehensive programme as well as the strong emphasis of the interests of Montenegrin Serbs, it will fail to attract the electorate of other national minorities (Bosnian or Albanian).
The Democratic Front also failed to form a coalition with the Socialist People’s Party, today’s main opposition party, who might, in turn, win 15 per cent of the vote, slightly less than in the last elections. This is due to the fact that it lost part of the electorate after the migration of some of its members to the Democratic Front. This split highlights the weakness of the opposition.
In addition, Positive Montenegro, a new party which promotes the welfare state but rules out any cooperation with the Democratic Front, will most probably enter parliament with up to 10 per cent of the vote. At the same time, Positive Montenegro is the party which may complete the ruling coalition if required, as the government perceives the rest of the opposition to be representatives of the interests of Montenegrin Serbs (about 30 per cent of the population) and won't consider cooperation with them.
New deal with the EU and NATO, old problems
Montenegro opened accession negotiations with the EU in June 2012 and thus became the most advanced country, except Croatia, to be in the process of European integration. The European Commission’s new approach assumes that accession negotiations will start with the most difficult chapters, 23 and 24, devoted to the rule of law and internal affairs. This demonstrates the EU’s commitment to the importance of key issues and standards to which the candidate country must adjust.
The progress report published by the European Commission on October 10th proves that Montenegro has to do more in order to increase the judicial independence, as well as fighting organised crime and corruption more effectively. The report also points to the shortcomings in the protection of human rights and the rights of minorities.
The NATO summit in May 2012 in Chicago welcomed the Montenegrin reforms within the Membership Action Plan and appreciated the country’s commitment to both regional cooperation and to the mission in Afghanistan. Given the political support of NATO member states, Montenegro may be invited to join the Alliance as early as 2014, subject to the continuation of reforms.
Montenegro, to be continued
Both the lack of an alternative of the ruling coalition and the growing social discontent caused by the economic deterioration means that the parties in the government should fear a “white ballot syndrome” rather than the opposition. Thus, the main challenge for the new government will continue to be the improvement of the economic situation. In recent years, similarly to other countries in the region, Montenegro has experienced both recession and a decrease in foreign investment, as well as an unemployment rate which reached almost 20 per cent in 2012.
As a result of the country’s poor economic performance, 2012 started with the Montenegrins taking to the streets. The protesters accused the government of corruption during the process of privatisation, and therefore called on it to step down, as well as demanding the improvement of the social protection system and a reduction in oil and energy prices. These are the challenges that the new government will also have to face.
The fact that the ruling coalition and the main opposition parties prioritise integration with the EU, and the fact that the radical parties absorb only marginal attention, prove the pro-European mood in Montenegrin society. However, the government will have to continue convincing society of the accession to NATO. Joining the Alliance would have a positive impact on the perception of the country by the EU in the European integration process.
Despite Montenegro's visible progress in recent years, however, the Commission’s report points out a series of shortcomings in the country’s laws. Yet, if the pace of this process in the Balkans doesn't accelerate, Montenegro will remain the only country with a chance of still joining the EU by the end of this decade.
Ewa Mączyńska is an intern at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and an associate of the Institute of Political Studies of Polish Academy of Science. She is an author of annual reports on Montenegro in the "East-Central Europe Annals". She graduated in History of East-Central Europe from West Virginia University and in International Relations from Collegium Civitas, Poland.
Tomasz Żornaczuk is an analyst on the Western Balkans at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM). He has previously worked as deck officer for the Western Balkans at the Ministry of Interior and Administration. He graduated in Analysing Europe from Doğuş University in Istanbul as well as from Maastricht University in the Netherlands.