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Unity within Montenegro’s Albanian community would benefit the whole country

As in the previous elections, Albanian parties in Montenegro have failed to form a joint coalition.

August 6, 2020 - Visar Xhambazi - Articles and Commentary

The Albanian Alternative. Photo: The official profile of Alternativa Shqiptare on facebook.com

Ongoing attempts by Montenegro’s Albanian community and wider diaspora to form a joint electoral list continue to prove unsuccessful. In 2016, various Albanian groups ran under three different electoral lists. This year, eight parties within the community are running as part of two party coalitions for parliamentary elections on August 30th.

The Albanian List coalition is comprised of the Albanian Alternative led by Nik Gjeloshaj, Nikolle Camaj’s Albanian Democratic League, New Democratic Force led by Nazif Cungu, Fadil Kajoshaj’s Tuzi Union, and Civic Movement Perspective led by Amir Hollaj. This coalition represents all areas where Albanian communities live, including Gusinje, Plav, Rozaje, Tuzi and Ulqinj.

At the same time, the other coalition includes Fatmir Gjeka’s Democratic Party, the Democratic Union of Albanians led by Mehmed Zenka, and Saubih Mehmeti’s Democratic League in Montenegro. These groups are all based in Ulqinj. This group came into existence following the parties’ direct refusal to join the Albanian List coalition. Such decisions ultimately encouraged these parties to form their own rival coalition.

During an interview with Euronews Albania, Zenka argued that he did not want to form a single coalition as this would only encourage some parties to contribute less than others. This problem could potentially impact the coalition’s ability to mobilise the Albanian electorate. Moreover, he accused the Albanian diaspora of bias due to its extensive contact with members of the Albanian List. Zenka himself had only been contacted recently by figures in the diaspora.

Why the push for unification?

Many in the country’s Albanian community and the global diaspora have demanded for years that the parties work together. This would ultimately strengthen the community’s position in Montenegro, as well as increase their representation within the state.

A group of Albanian-American organisations started an online petition as a final attempt to try and push for unification of the Albanian political forces. However, this ultimately failed to bring about its desired outcome.

As a result of the last parliamentary elections in October 2016, the representation of Albanian groups declined. These parties received 9,790 votes in total, which represents just half of Montenegro’s Albanian electorate. Only the New Democratic Force managed to win a seat in parliament. This is compared to the 2012 elections, when Albanians were represented by two members of parliament.

The Montenegrin parliament consists of 81 seats and the Albanian population is approximately five percent of the national population. The electoral threshold to ensure representation in the parliament is three percent.

As such, proponents of forming a single electoral block have also argued that this move would significantly increase the number of Albanian voters. This would increase chances of winning additional seats. By choosing to run with two lists, the parties again risk winning only one seat.

The “most stable” country in the region

From the outside, Montenegro gives off the impression of being the most stable country in the Western Balkans, as well as the front-runner in EU integration. In reality, however, Montenegro is a polarised society and continues to experience opposition boycotts and anti-corruption protests against the ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists in Montenegro (DPS).

Last year, the EU-backed board responsible for electoral system reform failed due to the opposition’s refusal to participate in board sessions. They accusing the ruling party of inciting ethnic hatred and unrest by passing a controversial Law on Religious Freedom.

The recently adopted law, which obliges religious organisations to provide clear evidence of property ownership in order to retain their properties, has sparked further tensions between Montenegro and its Serb minority.

Montenegro was described as a hybrid regime according to the 2020 Freedom House report on political rights and civil liberties. The report discussed an overall decline in governance, justice, elections and media freedom in the country. Furthermore, the report states that Montenegro suffers from issues of state capture, abuse of power and strongman tactics employed by President Milo Djukanovic.

As a result of endemic corruption and nepotism, discrimination against Albanians remains rife. Unemployment in the community is relatively high and Albanians remain under-represented in public institutions.

Considering these circumstances, the Albanian diaspora, mainly located in the United States, have pushed several times for unity and consensus within the community. Unfortunately, these campaigns have proved unsuccessful so far.

More Albanian representation directly benefits Montenegro

Montenegro is a multiethnic state and the smallest republic in the Balkans, with a population of around 630,000 people. No ethnic group makes up over half of its population. Around 45 per cent identify as Montenegrin, 29 per cent as Serbs, 12 per cent as Bosniak/Muslim and five per cent as Albanian.

Albanians, although small in number, have proven to be a stabilising factor in Montenegro, with the community expressing support for Euro-Atlantic integration.

During his official visit to Albania on June 3rd 2018, Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković reiterated that, “Albanians in Montenegro are citizens who contribute to the progress of the country, actively participate in achieving strategic priorities, and are a factor of stability and building of a better future for the country.”

Albanians overwhelmingly supported the 2006 independence referendum, which narrowly passed the 55 per cent threshold. Similarly, 71.2 per cent of Montenegrin Albanians supported Montenegro’s aspirations for NATO membership. This aforementioned support is especially notable in comparison to other minority groups.

In a country where there is no ethnic majority, minorities have an even greater role to play. More Albanian representation in the Montenegrin parliament will not only improve the community’s socio-economic position but will also strengthen Montenegro’s wider Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Visar Xhambazi is a policy researcher at Democracy for Development (D4D) Institute. He holds a master’s degree in International Studies from Old Dominion University in Virginia, specialising in US foreign policy and international relations.

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