Where is Montenegro going?
On Sunday 23 October, local elections were held in 14 of Montenegro’s 25 municipalities. Although local elections, all political actors know very well that this was a rehearsal for possible extraordinary parliamentary elections. This is because elections were also held in the capital, Podgorica, as well as in the largest cities in the north and south of the country, Bijelo Polje and Bar.
The local elections have undoubtedly shown who the losers and winners of these elections are.
Let’s start with the losers.
The first loser of the elections is surely the Democratic Socialist Party. At the moment, the DPS has lost power in Podgorica, Danilovgrad, Zeta, Pljevlja and Kolašin. Power in Bijelo Polje and Bar can only be maintained through a broad coalition arrangement with a number of minority and civic parties.
It has become clear that the DPS has not been able to halt the downward trend that has been going on since its defeat in the 2020 parliamentary elections. There are many reasons for this. Of course, some of them lie within the DPS itself. The remnants of people suspected of many unseemly acts in the parliamentary caucus and at the top of the party have ensured that a good part of the electorate in Montenegro has chosen other options or simply stayed at home.
Montenegrins like to be with the government, whatever it is
There are also two reasons for the fall of the DPS, which are not at all up to them. The first is that the DPS was and remains a largely clientelist party. This brought into the DPS a number of cadres who had no convictions other than the need for money and privilege. When that disappeared, so did their need for membership. The second reason for the fall of the DPS is that the Montenegrins like to be with the government, whatever government it is.
The next losers, no less losers than the DPS, are the ruling URA and the SNP. You are wondering how this could have happened when I wrote above that the Montenegrins like being with the government? The explanation is simple. Neither the URA nor the SNP, although they have the lion’s share of power, have managed to establish a wide clientelist network in the short time since Abazovic and Jokovic have been in government. In the meantime, they were abandoned by voters who voted for them in 2020 out of conviction. In several cities, these two parties have been left without councillors in local parliaments because they have not passed the census. Neither the URA nor the SNP needs anyone to form a parliamentary majority. It is true that they can be invited to power by the winners of the elections, but it is quite clear that, even if they are part of the government, they will realistically only be an “ikebana”.
The winners of the elections are certainly the “Europe Now” movement and the Democratic Front
The “Europe Now” movement received the most votes in Podgorica, over 20%, and it is realistic to expect that their list’s leader, Jakov Milatovic, will become mayor. Their success was objectively due to the fact that they raised minimum wages and pensions and increased social benefits while Milatovic and Spajic were ministers in the Montenegrin government. It must be acknowledged that the campaign, which focused exclusively on raising living standards, brought the movement a good share of the votes of minority communities and pro-Montenegrin voters, as can be seen from the results from the polling stations.
The Democratic Front has shown that it has a stable electorate that votes for it, whether it is in opposition or in power. Sticking to the national question is clearly still important to a part of the electorate, as is evident from the votes received by the Democratic Front.
Aleksa Bečić’s Democrats may be satisfied with the number of votes they have won, but it is clear that they need to change something, because this number of votes does not guarantee that they can be a decisive player in the parliamentary elections.
The question is, how will the processes on the political scene in Montenegro continue?
The DPS is clearly shaken. Their future is very much in doubt and will depend on how successful the reforms within the party are. The mayors of Bar and Bijelo Polje (if the DPS remains in power there) will certainly bear a big responsibility. Whether the DPS will survive politically will depend on how well they manage these municipalities. If they “slip” there, it could be the nail in the coffin.
The URA and SNP have an even bigger problem. It is abundantly clear that the local elections have shown that the current government in resignation is politically illegitimate. But the fall of the government would also mean the URA and SNP being cut off from all state resources and, in real terms, their political end.
Although they are the biggest winners of the elections, the leaders of “Europe Now” are potentially in the biggest problem. It is true that they have increased wages and pensions, but it is also true that they have done so at the cost of a staggering increase in national debts and a collapse of the health bill. That is why the parliamentary elections would suit this political subject already tomorrow. Any delay is potentially problematic for them, since the very first delay or reduction in wages and pensions would result in the loss of a significant, if not the largest, part of the electorate.
Mandic in the most relaxed position
Realistically speaking, the most relaxed position at the moment is that of Democratic Front President Andrija Mandic. He has the most stable electorate in Montenegro. It is also, and at the moment, the most motivated to go to local and all other elections. Unlike all other political entities, which have and will have even more problems with abstainers, the Democratic Front, thanks to this fact, can only expect continuous growth.
Although there have been calls for extraordinary parliamentary elections, I think that this issue will now be put to one side, at least for a short time. For the simple reason that elections do not suit any parliamentary political entity at the moment, with the exception of the Democratic Front.
When it comes to the development of the situation in the areas where the elections were held, it is realistic to expect that the chaos will be transferred from the national level to the local levels. We will therefore see a familiar scenario – bickering between coalition partners over the sharing of seats, political recruitment and misuse of funds. So nothing we have not seen before, only more visible and much more primitive.
Of course, the price will be paid by the citizens, who are also not blameless for this situation.
So the situation in Montenegro is regular.
That is to say, abnormal.
The views expressed in this text are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Al Jazeera.