Exit polls indicate dead heat in Montenegro general election

Exit polls indicate dead heat in Montenegro general election
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia October 17, 2016

Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led by veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has a narrow lead in the October 16 general election, but a coalition of the main opposition parties is also within the 40% to 42% band, according to two exit polls. 

There were numerous disruptions on election day, including the arrest of a group of Serbian paramilitaries reportedly planning an attack on Djukanovic and several hacker attacks. However, despite reports of irregularities, so far neither side has said it will contest the result. 

The indications are that the DPS and the group of opposition parties are on track to gain equal numbers of seats in the parliament, meaning that both will be seeking support from smaller parties to form a government. The most likely configuration is a revival of the long-standing coalition between the DPS and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), meaning a continuation of the status quo. 

Based on their samples, the Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) and Centre for Monitoring of Elections (CEMI), said that the DPS would gain 35 or 36 seats in the 81-seat parliament. Second came the pro-Russian Democratic Front (DF) with 21% (18 seats), followed by the Kljuch coalition with 10.5% (9 seats) and Demokratska Crna Gora (Democratic Montenegro) with 9.8% (8 seats). Prior to the election, the DF, Kljuc and Demokratska Crna Gora have agreed to form a joint government.

Djukanovic has controlled Montenegro’s political life for the past 25 years, being either prime minister or president for most of that time. His party has won all the elections since independence in 2006, but could be about to lose on October 16 as almost all the country's opposition parties have decided to unite and form a government without the DPS.

The future government will depend on the support of the ethnic parties that would jointly get four or five seats, the Social Democrats (SD) that will most likely have two MPs and DPS’ former ally the SDP which is likely to have four seats. In the past, the ethnic parties and the SDP backed Djukanovic, but the SDP withdrew its support for the prime minister in January. It is still unclear which side SDP will choose.

Predrag Sekulic of the DPS said the party is satisfied with the result and has expected it. On the other hand, on its Facebook page the DF claimed that the opposition parties will have a majority and can form a government without Djukanovic, including SDP in its calculations.

If the opposition manages to gain enough MPs to form government, its stability is questionable as such a large coalition has many different interests. There has been speculation that the main opposition parties were sponsored by Russia and, should they form a government, the country will abandon its pro-EU and pro-Nato path and turn again to Moscow.

The October 16 election had the highest turnout in Montenegro’s short history of independence at around 73%.

Voting was marred by the arrest of 20 Serbian paramilitaries suspected of planning disrupt the elections. Among those arrested was the former Serbia police commander Bratislav Dikic, also known as “The Little Legija", who has been under investigation on suspicion of leading a mafia organisation in Serbia along with his brother Dragan. Dikic was dismissed as a Serbian gendarmerie commander in 2013 after one of his men was arrested for murder.

According to the police, the group is suspected of planning to obtain automatic weapons and attack state institutions, the police and representatives of state authorities, including top state officials. According to local media, they were planning to arrest Djukanovic.

The voting was also accompanied by a number of signals of irregularities at polling stations. Three organisations - Montenegro’s Network for Affirmation of the NGO Sector (MANS), CEMI and CDT - have reported that representatives of political parties attempted to influence voters or keep records of voters.

At some polling stations there were concerns that representatives of political parties were trying to pay for votes in their favour, and those stations were closed. MANS reported it had filed a number of criminal charges against people who were offering money or benefits to people in exchange for their votes, as well as several people on suspicion of exerting pressure on voters.

Also, in several polling stations the electronic system for identification of voters was not functioning and they had to be temporarily closed. At some polling stations the voting had to be halted temporary as members of the election committees were arguing.

The opposition Reform Action (URA) claimed that one of its members, Aleksandar Srdanovic, was attacked by two people in his hometown of Pljevlja, while trying to record activists from DPS allegedly offering money to voters.

Throughout the election day, Montenegro’s telecommunications agency EKIP blocked access to mobile messaging. This restored after polls closed. Media and party websites were victims of hacker attacks during the day.

The source of the attacks is not clear. However, Djukanovic claimed in an interview with Reuters before the election that Russia was trying to influence the election to stall Montenegro's progress towards Nato membership. "Russia has engaged a serious financial potential, which is I assume, made possible through its oligarchs and funneled through secret channels through Serbia and Republika Srpska," Djukanovic told the newswire, claiming that Russia was funding opposition parties in Montenegro. 

More than 2,600 observers monitored the election, twice as high as in the previous general election in 2012, when there were around 1,300.

528,817 Montenegrins had to choose between 17 parties and coalitions, according to the electoral roll provided to the central election body by Montenegro’s interior ministry. The completion of the list was a source of tension as Internal Affairs Minister Goran Danilovic refused to sign it over credibility concerns. MANS has also raised concerns over the credibility of the electoral roll.