The parliamentary elections were held in Montenegro on August 30, 2020. For the first time in 30 years, a change of power has become possible in this country. Three opposition coalitions gained a slight advantage over the winning coalition, formed by the hitherto ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (Demokratska partija socijalista Crne Gore, DPS). However, given the differences that divide them, it remains unclear whether they will succeed in forming a stable government.
According to the election calendar, the next elections should not be held until autumn. However, on June 20, Milo Djukanović, the President of Montenegro and the DPS’ undisputed leader of, without any consultations with the opposition parties, announced that they would be held on August 30. At the same time, local elections are scheduled for that day in five municipalities: Budva, Kotor, Tivat, Andrijevica, and Gusinje.
The organization of the elections and the course of the campaign were significantly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the organization of mass meetings with voters was prohibited – only 40 people could gather in open space, while indoors – only 20. At the beginning of August, in response to political parties’ requests, it was decided to increase the limit to 100 people in outdoor spaces and 50 people indoors. Nevertheless, the election campaign was mainly transferred online, although the streets were filled with billboards promoting individual parties.
Electoral rivalry during a pandemic. In this year’s parliamentary elections, eleven electoral lists were registered – six coalitions and five political parties. The coalition formed by the DPS, bearing the name of the president of the country himself, fought to maintain power: “Decisively for Montenegro! DPS – Milo Djukanović” (Odlučno za Crnu Goru! DPS – Milo Djukanović). It supported the continuation of the pro-European policy, pointed to the government’s successes and announced further socio-economic reforms. However, the campaign’s main theme was the issue of identity and the controversial Law on Religious Freedom, adopted by Parliament in late 2019. The DPS warned that the opposition was seeking to introduce a theocracy in the country – the rule of the metropolitan of Montenegro – Amfilohije (the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral is one of the eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church, SOC), and stressed that only the DPS was the guarantor of a strong and sovereign Montenegro. In turn, a strong defender of the SOC, advocating the withdrawal of that law, was the coalition “For the future of Montenegro” (Za budućnost Crne Gore), created by the Democratic Front (Demokratski front, DF), a pro-Serb, pro-Russian and anti-NATO political party.
The “Black on white” (Crno na bijelo) coalition led by Dritan Abazović, and the “Peace is our Nation” (Mir je naša nacija) coalition by Aleksa Bečić and Miodrag Lekić, also launched a postulate to remove the DPS from power. These opposition groups clearly support the implementation of profound reforms in the country that will accelerate Montenegro’s accession to the European Union. The Social Democrats of Montenegro (Socijaldemokrate Crne Gore, SD) and the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (Socijaldemokratska partija Crne Gore, SDP), which are former partners of the DPS, also took part in the elections separately.
Political parties representing particular minorities have traditionally taken part in the election – the Bosniak Party (Bošnjačka stranka, BS), the Albanian Coalition-Unanimously (Albanska Koalicija-Jednoglasno), and the Albanian List (Albanska lista). Before the elections, there was a split in the community representing the Croatian minority. As a result, two Croatian political parties took part in the elections for the first time – the Croatian Civic Initiative (Hrvatska građanska inicijativa, HGI) and the Croatian Reform Party (Hrvatska reformska stranka, HRS) by former HGI member Marija Vučinović.
A slight victory for the opposition. The next day following the elections, the State Elections Commission announced that the coalition established by the DPS had won (35.06% – 30 seats). The coalition “For the future of Montenegro” gained slightly less support (32.55% – 27 seats). The following places were taken by the coalition of “Peace is our nation” (12.53% – 10 seats) and the “Black on white” (5.53% – 4 seats). The new Parliament will also include representatives of the Social Democrats (4.10%), the Bosniak Party (3.98%), the SDP (3.14%), and two coalitions created by Albanian parties (the Albanian List – 1.58%; Albanian Coalition-Unanimously – 1.14%). On the other hand, no Croatian party crossed the electoral threshold. The turnout was higher (76.65%) compared to the last elections in 2016 (73.33%). It should also be added that the opposition coalitions also defeated the ruling DPS in four of the five municipalities where the local elections were held. Only in Gusinje the Democratic Party of Socialists was able to maintain power.
The opposition immediately announced the victory and the end of the rule of the DPS. The leader of the “Black on White” coalition, Dritan Abazović, emphasized that Montenegro had been waiting for this moment for 30 years. The day after the elections, the leaders of the three opposition coalitions met. They agreed on four basic principles on which their future cooperation will be based. In line with the adopted guidelines, the new, democratic government will:
- continue to fulfill Montenegro’s international obligations;
- carry out the necessary reforms to accelerate the country’s accession to the EU;
- be a government of experts;
- respect the Constitution, revise and amend some discriminatory acts – including the Law on Religious Freedom.
At the same time, parties representing minority interests were invited to support the new government. It should also be added that shortly after the announcement of the preliminary results, the leader of the coalition established by the DF, Zdravko Krivokapić, went to a meeting with Metropolitan Amfilohije. At the same time, he stated that his priority would be to bury Montenegro’s divisions. Like other opposition leaders, he also called on citizens not to take to the streets and spark further unnecessary tensions. Nevertheless, some people gathered in front of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Podgorica to celebrate the upcoming removal of the DPS from power.
Conclusions. The analysis of the election results shows that the three opposition coalitions have a promising chance to form a new government: the “For the future of Montenegro” coalition, the “Peace is our nation”, and the “Black on white” – will have 41 seats in total, which is the minimum majority in Parliament. However, given which party won the elections, the president may first entrust the DPS with the mission to create a new government. However, this party, together with the support of its potential coalition partners, can only count on 40 seats.
For the first time in 30 years, the opposition political parties will have a majority (albeit a small one) in the future Montenegrin Parliament. This year’s elections indicate a much worse result for the Democratic Party of Socialists (loss of six seats). The reasons for this were numerous corruption scandals that caused mass protests in 2019, and the adoption of the controversial Law on Religious Freedom and the lack of improvement in the country’s economic situation. Moreover, a significant number of voters questioned the Government’s long-standing narrative that only the DPS was the guarantor of state independence.
The symbolic winner of the elections was also Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was actively involved in the election campaign, calling for voting against the ruling DPS. The Law on Religious Freedom and the organized mass protests have been the main topic of public debate in recent months. Therefore, it can be assumed that the metropolitan, cooperating with the Democratic Front, will also influence the actions of the future government, created by the opposition.
At the same time, however, the Democratic Party of Socialists will retain a large representation in the next parliament. Moreover, its leader, Milo Djukanović, will still significantly influence the political situation in Montenegro as the president of the country – at least until 2023.
The three opposition coalitions which have already announced their will to create an expert government face many challenges. To begin with, it is necessary to develop a program that will enable them to work together. It is essential in the face of deep divisions that exist in Montenegrin society. Therefore, the parties should invariably call for a calming down of the situation, especially since the result of the coalition formed by the DF also strengthened this radical part of its electorate. Finally, it is necessary to strengthen the rule of law, depoliticize state institutions that have been “controlled” by the DPS for decades, and deepen democratization. Besides, the change of power takes place in the difficult economic situation of a country struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of who will ultimately create the new government, it should not be expected that Montenegro will significantly change its foreign policy priorities; it will remain in NATO and continue its integration within the EU. The Democratic Front will probably strive to strengthen relations primarily with Serbia and Russia. However, it can be assumed that DF will be inhibited in this field by the pro-Western United Reform Action (Ujedinjena Reformska Akcija, URA; member of the coalition the “Black on white”).
With the success of the Democratic Front, concerns arose in the region about the strengthening of Serbia’s position and its direct influence on Montenegro’s authorities. The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, stated explicitly that Serbia also contributed to the achievement of such a good election result by pro-Serb political parties by providing financial aid to Serbian organizations operating in Montenegro. What is more, it should be added that the leaders of countries such as North Macedonia (Zoran Zaev) or Albania (Edi Rama) wished the Democratic Party of Socialists a success right before the elections.
 From 1998, the SDP was the main coalition partner for the Democratic Party of Socialists. The division between the coalition partners took place only in 2016. However, during this year's election campaign, the SDP again claimed that it could form a coalition with the DPS after the election.