A victory of populism for the new Montenegrin reality
The results of the local elections in 14 municipalities showed a major recomposition of the political scene, characterised by the rise of the new populist movement “Europe Now”, but also the fall of parties from the pro-European bloc.
At the same time, the parties that dominate Montenegro’s 43rd government – the Socialist People’s Party and the Civic Movement of Ura – are so marginalised in the new distribution of power at the local level that, apart from Pluzhin and Kolasin, they are nowhere to be even a small part of the government.
The Democratic Front, on the other hand, although not growing, expects secure mayoral positions in Budva, Plevlja and Zeta, so that the pro-Serb organisation will have as many as six mayors in Montenegro.
MONTENEGRO AS MONACO
The populist “Europe Now” movement, which won from 15 to 21.7 percent of the vote at the Montenegrin level and is considered the biggest winner of the local elections and one of the favourites in the upcoming parliamentary elections, certainly has the most reason to be satisfied.
The movement, headed by three former ministers from Krivokapic’s “apostolic government”, Milojko Spajic, Jakov Milatovic and Olivera Injac, has already demanded mayoral positions in Podgorica, Danilovgrad, Tivat and Žabljak, with a high probability that these positions will go to them.
The secret of this new political party’s success was best explained by the movement’s leader, Milojko Spajic, a former finance minister and author of the controversial “Europe Now” tax reform, which provides for an increase in the minimum wage.
– DPS failed to convince the citizens that 222 euros are more than 450 euros – triumphantly said Spajic, whose movement during the election campaign through Jakov Milatovic promised an average salary in Montenegro of the fantastic 1000 euros, but also zero unemployment in Montenegro. Milatovic also promised the citizens a capital budget of an incredible 500 million euros, which is twice the budget of all municipalities in Montenegro.
For some economic analysts, Milatović’s story of an average salary of EUR 1 000 and zero unemployment in economically over-indebted Montenegro reminded them of the story of the unsuspecting candidate in the 1994 presidential elections, Boro Miranović, when he met a group of young men in the centre of Podgorica, among whom was the author of the text, and promised an average salary at Montenegrin level of 500 German marks. When warned that it was small, Miranović victoriously said 1,000 marks, even though the average wage in Montenegro was then only 30 marks.
– ‘I know how, Montenegro – Monaco,’ exclaimed Miranovic, dressed in the costume of Conan the Barbarian from the hit 1980s film of the same name directed by John Milius.
However, some of the citizens apparently unquestioningly believed the story of Spajić and Milatović, which turned from a youth of the SPC into a declaratively pro-European organisation. The double negative report of the DRI for the first time in history, as well as the numerous controversies that followed the work of their ministries, the illegal purchase of aircraft and the illegal borrowing apparently did not interest the citizens who trusted this populist organisation.
The result of this movement in Podgorica is particularly impressive, with as many as 21.388 votes, and forecasts indicate that if a similar result is repeated in the parliamentary elections, this movement will be the dominant force in a potential parliamentary majority.
The good result of the Spajić movement was definitely influenced by the fact that neither the position nor the opposition attacked them in the general political turmoil in Montenegro during their three-month mandate.
DPS one of the losers
The Democratic Party of Socialists is one of the losers of the elections, although it will continue to exercise power with partners in the important triangle: Bijelo Polje, Bar and Plav. The broad coalition approach, which Djukanovic’s party opted for, for the first time in eight years did not yield the expected result, although this party is still the pillar of the only European bloc in Montenegro.
The DPS, acting in coalition with its partners, lost power in the municipalities it dominated until yesterday – Danilovgrad, Kolašin, Pljevlja and Žabljak, losing on average more than 20 percent of its voters. The defeat in Podgorica, his key stronghold where he lost power after more than two decades, was particularly painful.
Preliminary analyses show that the coalition around the DPS won 37,518 votes out of a projected 45,000 in Podgorica, or even seven and a half thousand fewer.
The largest number of these votes, as first analyses show, are on the side of the Europe Now movement.
However, it did not seem so at the beginning of the vote count. The coalition, led by the agile and capable mayor Ivan Vukovic, was helped by the fact that the SNP had no recount, so it would have come to power with as much as 45 or 46 percent.
The problem in the plans of Vukovic and his team, however, was the so-called safe voters: a similar situation to the 2020 parliamentary elections emerged, but with different actors, since this time 15 percent of the MRF voters, instead of the church coalition gathered around the DF, supported the populist Europe Now.
The broad coalition of eight political parties and one movement in Podgorica clearly did not have a synergistic effect, despite an excellent campaign that focused on local issues: in absolute numbers, this result is 10 percent lower than the 2020 parliamentary elections, but also up to the 2018 local elections, when the new municipality of Zeta was excluded from the electoral calculations.
The appearance of Ivan Vuckovic himself on stage on election night shows that the outgoing mayor took full responsibility for the below-expectation result.
The DPS, as a key party in the European bloc, has to make such long-awaited personnel reforms, probably to get rid of people who are still ballast for this party. But also a change in strategy going forward: a serious pro-European party simply needs to have a broader coalition capacity.
The country is in an institutional, political, economic, and soon probably energy crisis, and the current government in its technical mandate has no model and no capacity to lead us out of the crisis.
The country simply needs a strong DPS as the backbone of the European bloc, and the necessary personnel reforms will certainly lead to an expansion of the coalition capacity of Đukanović’s party with potential partners: the Democrats, Ura, but why not the Europe Now movement, which is at least declaratively pro-European and pro-NATO.
SNP AND URA LOSERS
The big losers of the elections are Ura and SNP, the parties that overwhelmingly make up Montenegro’s 43rd government and whose record is so bad in the new distribution of power at the local level that, with the exception of Kolašin and Plužin, they cannot be anywhere even a small part of the government.
Ura, under the strong mortgage of the big scandal of the state cigarette smuggling, in which its top was involved, lost forty percent of its electorate in Podgorica and failed in its key political goal: to be, as in 2020, in the position of ‘tash on the scales’ “. This was Ura’s plan from the beginning, as evidenced by the election performance of Dritan Abazovic, who called the list holder Luka Rakcevic the future mayor of Podgorica.
Now Ura is in a difficult position, although it provides the Prime Minister: the Party of Abazovic is no longer needed for coalitions and can only expect “political crumbs” from the table of the stronger: or waiting for a sign from Belgrade that, as a thank you for signing the “Basic Contract” , somehow “pushing” in the management of one of the municipalities.
What can we say about the electoral result of the SNP in Podgorica, which – despite occupying important positions in the government – did not even secure a recount with a significantly lower turnout than in the parliamentary elections.
The SNP has the opportunity to be in power even in Kolašin, and it achieved a poor result in its traditional bastions of Bijelo Polje and Plevlja, where it has a subordinate, not to say marginal, status.
If Ura, and the SNP, continue with this kind of government they will face a tough battle for the vote in the general election.
DF CAN BE SATISFIED
The Democratic Front, although not growing, can be very happy with the results of the local elections. In the new constellation of forces, DF will have the mayoral positions in Budva, Zeta in Pljevlja, where they won convincingly, so that the political group in Montenegro will have as many as six mayors. In Podgorica, Kolašin, Žabljak, Danilovgrad and Šavnik, as an indispensable member of the government.
The election result in Budva, but also in Pljevlja, is a reflection of the influence of a foreign factor: the support of Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, who logistically and materially helped for such a good result.
DF also achieved a solid result in Podgorica, where they narrowly missed out on the mayoralty. However, the radical actions of this pro-Serbian organisation have not had a beneficial effect on the stability of the political situation in Montenegro, which is acknowledged by Western partners in Brussels and Washington, from where messages are coming that the organisation should not be part of the government.
The new DF plan to illegally remove the current President Đukanović by passing an unconstitutional law in parliament will further destabilise the already bad political situation.
It is obvious that nothing has been resolved with these elections and we are in for a hot political autumn.