On April 7th 2013 Montenegro held presidential elections in which incumbent president Filip Vujanović squared against Miodrag Lekić. In the closely contested elections Mr Vujanović was declared winner by the margin of only about 7000 votes, but the united opposition that supported Mr Lekić disputes the results, and has demanded a recount. While we are awaiting the outcome of this recount, and the reaction of political parties to the announcement of the electoral commission, it could be useful to take a look back to the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro held on October 14th 2012 because in some ways they represented a prelude to the on-going political crisis in the country.
The parliamentary elections on October 2012 confirmed that the improvements and changes in parliamentary legislative, required in the frame of negotiations for the accession of Montenegro in the European Union, are implemented and that the quality of democracy has been increased. Second, the results of the elections forced the Coalition European Montenegro, primarily Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), to seek the support of parties representing ethnic minorities in order to form the government. This has made the minority parties true winners of these elections, and it has been the first time since 2001 that the ruling party has been forced into a post-electoral coalition. The article proceeds by giving a brief description of the political and electoral and party systems of the Republic of Montenegro, and it highlights broader significance of the October 2012 parliamentary elections in light of the Montengro’s EU membership bid, and in light of the continuously precariously political divisions in the Montenegrin society that are currently culminating in the disputed presidential elections.
Political and Electoral System of the Republic of Montenegro
The political system of the Republic of Montenegro can be defined as parliamentary-presidential type of semi-presidentialsm: a hybrid system which combines features of presidential and parliamentary political systems in two-headed executive consisted of the head of the state and the head of the government.
After the declaration of independence of Montenegro from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 14, the new constitution was adopted and proclaimed in October 2007. According to this Constitution, the executive branch of power is strictly divided between the Government, led by the Prime Minister (“Premijer”), and the President (“Predsjednik”), which are elected and legitimized through direct, popular voting on free and fair nationwide elections. The President is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round electoral system to serve a 5-year term. On the other hand, the Prime Minister is nominated by the president with the approval of the parliament.
The Assembly (“Skupština”) of Montenegro is unicameral and comprises 81 MPs elected through a closed-list proportional representation system, for a term of 4 years. The seats are allocated using the d’Hondt method, with a threshold of three percent required to obtain parliamentary representation.15 It is important to note that in the case of the minority parties the threshold is lowered to 0.7 percent (for Croatians, this becomes 0.35 percent)16. Additionally, individual candidates with the support of at least 1 percent of the electorate can be officially accepted. Pursuing the law on the election of municipal councillors and members of parliament adopted in September 2011, all parliament’s seats have to be allocated according to candidate lists and on the basis of the candidates’ order on the electoral lists. This is a significant improvement compared to the previous practice when half of the seats were freely assigned by parties, thus highlighting the strong role of parties and their leadership.
Since Montenegro’s negotiations towards EU membership started on 29th June 2012, a set of changes to the electoral law was required to bring its electoral legislation into conformity with the Constitution of 2007 and with European standards. The amendments consisted mostly in technical improvements to voting and in reinforcement of the protection of fundamental rights, such as non-discrimination. According to the PACE Report on the observation of the early parliamentary elections in Montenegro the progress in several points was stated. For example the issue of allocation of the seats in the parliament on the basis of the candidate list’s order was cleared. Additionally, the issue of “authentic representation” of minorities and other positive developments that improved national minorities’ representation in parliament were stressed17. Therefore, the last parliamentary elections in October 2012 made a significant step within the negotiations process, because they confirmed that the changes in the parliamentary legislative were implemented and the overall progress has been given the positive assessment.
Early parliamentary elections on October 14th 2012
The parliamentary elections, initially scheduled for spring 2013, followed the dissolution of Parliament approved on 26th July 201218 with the support of members from Democratic Party of Socialists led by Milo Đukanović, the Social Democratic Party led by Ranko Krivokapić, the Bosniak Party led by Rafet Husović and the Democratic Albanian Union led by Ferhat Dinosa. Varying interpretations of the reasons for parliament’s decision to shorten its mandate are present in the public. The ruling parties, which supported early elections, justified their position with the need for a parliament and a government that has a full four-year term necessary in order to cope with the challenges of the new “hard” phase of EU integration, opened in June 2012. However, the call for early elections can be interpreted as government’s calculation which aimed to better election results. Aware of the lack of popularity that the implementation of austerity measures within the framework of EU negotiations could bring, the government wanted the general election to take place as soon as possible.
These early elections were marked with high turnout of 72.29%, or 362,712 out of 514,055 registered voters19. We should bear in mind that this high turnout could have affected the outcome of elections, since it was higher for more than 4% than in 2009, and the number of registered voters on the elections in 2009 was smaller for about 16000.
The party system of Montenegro is unique to the region of Western Balkans, since it is characterized by the continuous dominance of one single party – Democratic Party of Socialists (“Demokratska partija socijalista”, DPS) from the introduction of the multi-party system. Apart from the crises in 1997 when a pro-Milošević Socialist People’s Party (“Socijalistička narodna partija”, SNP) split from the party, the DPS remained stable and held the governing position without a clear ideological profile, characterised by a great degree of flexibility”20. In the parliamentary elections in October 2012 DPS together with its usual partner Social Democratic Party (“Socijalistička demokratska partija”, SDP) formed the basis of the Coalition European Montenegro (“Koalicija Evropska Crna Gora”) and won 46.38% of votes, or 39 seats21. Although this coalition won the most votes in the elections, the percentage of votes received is not sufficient to form a majority in the parliament, and strikingly lower in comparison with the results from the elections in 2009, when it ran with the Bosniak Party (“Bosanska stranka”, BS) and the Croatian Civic Initiative (“Hrvatska građanska inicijativa”, HGI) and won 48 seats22. The fact that alliance essentially grounded in the DPS and SDP lost the absolute power for the first time after 2001, when it had the support of the Liberal minority government, represents a significant turnover.
The Democratic Party of Socialists is led by its long-time president, Prime Minister and president Milo Đukanović who retained strong informal control over the administration and the economy. The Social Democratic Party was founded in 1993 from the small and regionally based parties affiliated with the Reformist Movement of Ante Marković, the last Yugoslav Prime Minister. It is a close coalition partner of DPS, participating in all governments since 1997. The Liberal Party (“Liberalna stranka”, LS) is the successor to the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (“Liberalni savez Crne Gore”, LSCG), which emerged from the Reformist Forces of Ante Marković in 1991 and dissolved in March 2005, as “the only parliamentary party in the Western Balkans to abolish itself since the beginning of multi-party systems in 1990”23. After the corruption scandal followed the dissolution, former president of the LSCG Miodrag Živković founded Liberal Party which continued to support the independence of Montenegro from the state union and remained at a critical distance towards DPS.
The second strongest political alliance in the elections was the Democratic Front (Demokratski Front) which won 23.18% of the votes, or 20 seats. This coalition was founded in 2012 by former foreign minister Miodrag Lekić, between the New Serbian Democracy (“Nova srpska demokratija”, NSD or NOVA) on the one hand, and the Movement for Change (“Pokret za promene”, PzP) on the other. The New Serbian Democracy (NSD) was formed in January 2009 as a merger of Serb People’s Party and the People’s Socialist Party of Montenegro. The party, led by Andrija Mandić the leader of the former Serb List, is envisioned as a broad coalition of pro-Serb parties of Montenegro. On the other hand, the Movement for Change emerged from the popular NGO Group for Changes (“Grupa za promjene”, GzP) in 2006. Led by civil society activist Nebojša Medojević, this party is focused on economic reforms and a break with the post-communist legacy. Results of the last elections confirmed that the support for this party has strengthened at the expense of the Socialist People’s Party.
The Socialist People’s Party (“Socijalistička narodna partija”, SNP) is considered to be the biggest loser of the elections, since it won only 11.23% of votes, or 9 seats, compared with 16 seats won in the last elections in 200924. This party was founded in 1997 by Momir Bulatović, when pro-Milošević wing split from DPS and pursued a “similar mixture of social populism and affinity with Serb nationalism”25 as Socialist Party of Serbia (“Socijalistička partija Srbije”, SPS) of Slobodan Milošević, though it continued to support a distinct Montenegrin identity as well. A certain crises developed in the party after the fall of Milošević regime in 2000, when a moderate wing under Predrag Bulatović cooperated with the new democratic government in Serbia and marginalised Momir Bulatović. After the failure at the referendum and the dissolution of the state union, the party abandoned its call for a joint state with Serbia and changed the course towards EU integration of Montenegro, and thus lost its position as the largest opposition party.
The Positive Montenegro (“Pozitivna Crna Gora”, PCG), which made a debut in these elections, achieved great success by winning 8.73% of votes, or 7 seats in the Parliament. The other parties that passed the threshold in these elections are the Bosniak Party (“Bošnjačka Stranka”, BS), which won 4.24% of votes, or 3 seats, and the Croatian Civic Initiative (“Hrvatska građanska inicijativa”, HGI) which won 0.42% of votes, or one seat in the parliament. As for the minority parties, the parties which passed the threshold and won one seat in the parliament each, are New Democratic Force (“Forca e Re Demokratike”, FORCA) and the Albanian coalition led by Fatmir Đeka.
The results of the early elections in the October 2012 made a significant difference in relation to previous elections. This was the first time since 2001 that the Coalition European Montenegro, primarily Democratic Party of Socialists, has been forced to seek the support of minority parties in order to form the government. For this reason the minority parties can be considered as the sole winner of these parliamentary elections. The negotiations for the formation of the government after these elections were long and difficult. Although that the government elected on December 4th 2012 with the new ‘old’ leader Milo Đukanović as the Prime Minister26 confirmed the continuation of his rule in Montenegro, the results of these parliamentary elections highlighted the need for new parties on the Montenegrin political scene. The DPS has won every single election since the establishment of the multi-party system 23 years ago, leaving Montenegro as the only post-communist country in Europe which has not yet experienced a change of government, and is still waiting the first peaceful and democratic change of government. In these circumstances, even the fact that the DPS – SDP Coalition European Montenegro has not had enough votes to form the majority in the parliament, represents certain improvement. Additionally, as Florian Bieber stated in a recent interview, the return of Milo Đukanović to the position of the Prime Minister in the government, can be interpreted as a sign of the weakening of his power, and his inability to control executive power from the shadow, from the position of the president of the strongest party in the state.