Montenegro's coalition fractures as government eyes early elections

By bne IntelliNews September 10, 2015

bne IntelliNews -


A coalition that has held together for some 17 years is on the brink of collapse in Montenegro, where early elections are expected to be called for spring 2016.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic indicated in a television interview that the ruling coalition had already started to disintegrate. Observers say the sole factor holding Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its junior partner the Social Democratic Party (SDP) together is that discussions on Montenegro’s entry to Nato are at a critical point.

However, given the DPS is expected to remain the dominant power in Montenegrin politics, the split is not likely to lead to political instability or harm the country’s chances of Euro-Atlantic integration in the longer-term.

Speaking on RTCG’s Challenge TV show, Djukanovic referred to “certain disagreements within the governing coalition”, Montenegrin news site CDM reported on September 8. He added that the DPS would most likely run without its coalition partner if elections are held in 2016.

The two parties have been in coalition since the 1998 elections, and in general have very close political views. However, a rift has become apparent recently and the two parties were already expected to go it alone in the next round of elections. As it seeks to build a stronger independent support base, the SDP has been critical of its partner’s record on corruption, adding to tensions between the parties.

Adding to the confusion, the SDP has split internally, leaving two ministers - Transport Minister Ivan Brajovic and Information Society Minister Vujica Lazovic - within the government but no longer members of the SDP.

The tipping point came on September 7, when the local branch of the DPS in the Adriatic resort of Budva announced it was ending its agreement with the Budva SDP. The DPS accused the SDP of obstructing its effort to attract foreign investment and develop tourist infrastructure, according to CDM.

In his interview with Challenge, Djukanovic said the end of the Budva coalition was “neither the first nor the last one”.

However, at national level the coalition is still hanging together as neither party wants to jeopardise their chances of securing an invitation to join NATO. Intense negotiations are due to take place in the next few months, which could result in a decision by the end of the year.

“The coalition is no longer functioning even though the government is still in power. The only reason it hasn’t yet split is that they are hoping for an invitation for Nato membership this year. New elections are expected to be called at the end of 2015 and take place early next year,” Zlatko Vujovic, president of the governing board of Podgorica-based think tank Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), told bne IntelliNews.

Podgorica is also keen to press ahead with its EU accession process. Montenegro signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in 2007. In 2012, the country began the accession negotiations with the bloc and has has so far opened 20 of the 35 chapters, of which two have been provisionally closed.

The main obstacle on Montenegro’s path towards EU accession is the lack of progress in tackling corruption. The European Commission’s 2014 progress report for Montenegro singled out the lack of a “credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in corruption cases, including high-level corruption”. It also called for a “sustainable and SAA-compatible solution” for Kombinat Aluminijuma Podgorica (KAP), the country’s largest industrial company, over which Podgorica is locked in a legal battle with its former owner Central European Aluminum Company (CEAC), a subsidiary of Oleg Deripaska’s En+ Group.

This is problematic for Montenegro, where investment is the main driver of the country’s GDP growth. The European Commission’s Spring Forecast published in May projects growth of up to 3% for the full year, driven mainly by investments into the Bar-Boljare motorway and various large tourist resorts.

Despite the criticism of Djukanovic’s DPS, the party is widely expected to remain in power should early elections take place. The party emerged from the Montenegrin branch of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and has been in power ever since.

Its leader Djukanovic has personally been at the top level of Montenegrin politics since 1991. A former ally of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic later became instrumental in Montenegro's independence movement, which ended the country's union with Serbia in 2006 in a referendum. He is currently on his fourth term prime minister, serving in 1991-1998, 2003-2006, 2008-2010 and 2012 to the present. He was also the country’s president from 1998 to 2002.

Meanwhile, Montenegro’s opposition Democratic Front (DF) coalition announced in July plans to organise a series of anti-government protests starting on September 27. DF, led by former diplomat Miodrag Lekic, wants the current government to resign, the appointment of an interim cabinet and early elections.

However, according to Vujovic, the protests are not expected to be on a similar scale to those in nearly Macedonia, where tens of thousands turned in protests against Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government earlier this year. “[The protests] are being organised by the Democratic Front, which used to be the strongest opposition entity with support from around 25% of voters, but this has now slumped to just 6%,” explains Vujovic. “No other opposition groups are taking part in the demonstrations, which are mainly intended to strengthen the Democratic Front’s position.”


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