The presidential elections in Montenegro, held on April 7th, have placed this country in the spotlight of the region during the last few weeks due to the political crises their contested outcome has produced. These were the sixth presidential elections in the country after the introduction of the multi-party system in 1990, and the second after the declaration of independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. According to the State Election Commission (DIK) 511,405 citizens had the right to vote in these elections.
The political system of the Republic of Montenegro represents a parliamentary-presidential type of semi-presidentialsm, in which the president plays an important role2. Thus, it is no wonder that the tensions in the Montenegrin public were rising during the ‘battle’ between incumbent president Filip Vujanović as the candidate of the Democratic Party of Socialists and the candidate of the united opposition, Miroslav Lekić. The political crises reached a dramatic point when both presidential candidates declared their victories. Furthermore, the Montenegrin electorate has been almost evenly divided for years, even though only one political party – the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), led by Milo Đukanović, has managed to hold the dominance continuously since introduction of the multi-party system. However, the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro held last October resulted with the first hints of the possible loss of this dominance when DPS was forced to seek the support of parties representing ethnic minorities in order to form the government. The race ended with the tight victory of Vujanović by the razor thin margin of 7650 votes, or 51.21 percent, according to the State Election Commission (DIK) of Montenegro. Even though the opposition candidate Lekić was not the official winner of these elections, the high results he achieved in this presidential race are seen as the defeat of DPS in the psychological sense, reviving the opposition almost overnight and ending the belief that the DPS cannot lose the elections.
Both candidates of presidential elections actively engaged from the very first day of the bustling election campaign. Lekić’s campaign focused on the close ties of the ruling DPS with crime and corruption, promising the end of this criminal pyramid as one of his main goals. On the other hand, Vujanović, as the incumbent president, directed his campaign based on stability and higher living standards during his tour around the country. The Democratic Front, the Socialist People’s Party (SNP) of Montenegro and Positive Montenegro (PCG) supported Lekić, while the Liberal Party (LP) as well as parties of the minority nations gave their support to Vujanović. Yet surprisingly, the leader of Social Democratic Party (SDP), long-term coalition partner of DPS Ranko Krivokapić, urged its voters to boycott the elections. As Miloš Bešić states, this lack of support did affect the final results, but the main reason for the poor result of the current president is disobedience of voters of national minority parties. Furthermore, this ‘incident’ marked the possibility of future dissolution of the DPS – SDP coalition despite the current resolution of the conflict which emerged during the presidential race, since it emphasized possible differences on various issues between these two parties in the long run.
While political tensions increased, the Montenegrin Parliament delayed all of its activities, and Lekić’s election headquarters announced protests against the election results after Montenegro’s Constitutional Court dismissed Lekić’s appeal on the decision of the State Election Commission (DIK) which rejected objections of his election headquarters and the requirements for cancellation of elections at the polling stations where it people voted by mail. The crises in the country continued to intensify as accusations of lies and false results from politicians of opposing blocks filled the media, therefore widening and deepening the already existing tensions. The accusations resulted with the announcement that the members of DPS from Herceg Novi will file criminal charges against Goran Danilović, head of the election headquarters of presidential candidate Miodrag Lekic, for libel. International observers of the Council of Europe and OSCE reacted stating that the presidential elections were conducted professionally and efficiently from a technical point of view, but nonetheless recommended that measures should be taken to strengthen confidence in state institutions, in order to improve the atmosphere in Montenegro and contribute to the improvement of the electoral process.
Last Saturday the Democratic Front, in cooperation with the other opposition parties Socialist People’s Party and Positive Montenegro, organized a protest in front of the presidency in the centre of Podgorica, calling for the annulment of the vote held on the 7th of April, new presidential elections, an amendment to the electoral law in terms of reducing potential fraud and political influence on voters during the election campaign, and parliamentary inquiry into the case of recording and prosecution of those responsible for the affair.
The consequence of these presidential elections is a rise of tensions in the public, and a significantly altered political situation in Montenegro. Firstly, the Democratic Front has emerged and stabilized as the leading opposition force in Montenegro. Miroslav Lekić, after his “debut” as the leader of the front at the last parliamentary elections, managed to unify the disoriented and fractious opposition, bringing it back to life almost overnight. Secondly, the poor results of Filip Vujanović represent the psychological defeat of the incumbent DPS party, which ended the conviction that DPS cannot lose elections, and gave a strong boost to the opposition. Finally, the short lasting conflict which emerged between the DPS – SDP coalition revealed the accumulated tension and possible differences on various issues between these two parties that could perhaps lead to the dissolution of the coalition in the long run. And as the results of these elections seem to indicate, DPS cannot hold absolute power without the support of SDP. It is to be seen what the following local elections will bring, as they may pose another difficult challenge for the DPS – SDP coalition.