Montenegro’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said on October 25 it has decided to nominate its deputy chairman Dusko Markovic as the country's new prime minister.
If Markovic is voted in by the parliament, he would replace Milo Djukanovic, the DPS’s longstanding leader who has served as either prime minister or president for most of the last 25 years. In a statement on October 25 the party did not elaborate on why it planned to nominate Markovic, but a new prime minister could be more acceptable to the DPS’ potential coalition partners as the party tries to put together a new government.
According to preliminary results from Montenegro’s central election body, DIK, 41.42% of the votes were cast for the DPS, securing the party 36 seats in the parliament. The party is hoping to attract the parties representing ethnic minorities and at least one more opposition party to form a coalition.
Markovic’s candidacy is due to be approved by the DPS’s management on October 26. 58-year-old Markovic is a deputy prime minister in the current government. He was previously head of the agency for national security.
The DPS hopes to form a new coalition quickly and name a new government by mid-November. However, a group of opposition parties will have roughly the same number of MPs in the new parliament so it is still questionable who will gain a majority to form a government. Both sides – the DPS and the opposition – are trying to attract the ethnic parties to their side.
Traditionally, the ethnic parties have backed the DPS, which faced an extremely close race in the 2016 election after losing its long-term coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), earlier this year. While DPS won the largest share of the vote, the opposition parties could form a majority post-election and have indicated they intend to do so.
The ethnic parties met on October 24 and decided to draft a common platform before choosing which side to back in the new parliament.
While not commenting on his decision to stand aside, Djukanovic hinted on October 25 that Russia was behind what Podgorica is calling an attempted coup on the eve of the October 16 general election, even though there are growing indications that the incident was masterminded by Djukanovic supporters within the security service.
According to a DPS statement, Djukanovic referred to the “involvement of foreign interests in the election process in Montenegro” at a meeting with the head of the OSCE election observation mission Romana Jakiča and political analyst Misije Zainu Ismailovu on October 25.
“Prime Minister Djukanovic expressed his belief that this … is evidence of an attack on the system of European values,” the party statement says.
Even before the election Djukanovic claimed in an interview with Reuters that Russia had been interfering by financing the opposition as part of a campaign to stop Montenegro from joining Nato. "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 on October 13.
In his latest statement, Djukanovic appeared to have been referring to the arrest of 20 Serb paramilitaries in Montenegro on October 15. They were suspected of planning to disrupt the elections by attacking state institutions, the police and representatives of state authorities, including top state officials. Local media reported that they were planning to arrest Djukanovic.
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.
However, suspicions that the “coup attempt” was in fact a ploy by the DPS to boost its support immediately before the election quickly surfaced. According to the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), it was possible that the arrested Serbs had planned to cause social unrest in connection with the elections, but they “most likely had been observation for some time by the Montenegrin security services, as the police provided personal information on the group’s members immediately after their detention.”
Speculation that the coup attempt was part of the DPS’s election campaign “is proved by the fact that the operation, which was controlled by Djukanovic supporters among the police and special services, was not coordinated in advance with the head of the interior ministry (who is not a member of the DPS),” the OSW said.
The plot thickened on October 24 when Aleksandar Vucic, the prime minister of neighbouring Serbia, claimed that the Serbian police had found proof of plans for a coup attempt - but with no connection to the group previously detained in Montenegro.
Meanwhile, in its preliminary report on the elections, the OSCE/ODIHR did not refer to the alleged coup, saying the election had been “were held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected", while noting the “lack of distinct policy alternatives” offered and questions over campaign financing.