Montenegro’s Europe Now party is the most likely winner of the June 11 snap general election, despite a smear campaign in the final days ahead of the vote.
This continues the handover of power to a new generation of politicians after Europe Now’s candidate, Jakov Milatovic, won the presidential election in April, beating Montenegro’s longstanding leader Milo Djukanovic.
However, polling at just under 30%, if Europe Now is to form a government after the election it will have to ally itself either with Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) or with smaller pro-Russian parties, neither of which are particularly palatable to the party that is presenting itself as a new broom in Montenegrin politics.
New political landscape
Montenegro is holding the early vote amid a serious political crisis and change of the political landscape.
Djukanovic and his DPS ruled the small country for 30 years until the DPS lost three consecutive votes – for parliament in 2020, for local governments in 2022 and for president in 2023. This forced Djukanovic to retire after more than 30 years in power, quitting the DPS’ leadership. Although the party tried hard to show a new face, it did not have enough time after the presidential vote to carry out an in-depth reform of its leadership and present a fresh and trustworthy face.
On the other hand, Europe Now, set up last spring by two former ministers, Milatovic and Milojko Spajic, has quickly gained popularity among voters who see it as a pro-Western alternative to the DPS.
According to a poll carried out by CEDEM in mid-May, Europe Now would get 29.1% of the vote, followed by the DPS with 24.1% and the pro-Russian Democratic Front with 13.1%. However, the poll was carried out before the three parties forming the Democratic Front announced that they are parting ways after 11 years.
The Social Democratic Party polled fourth with 11.1%, followed by the Bosniak Party with 5.1% and outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic’s liberal URA party with 4.4%.
Europe Now’s leaders have repeatedly said that they would not join forces with the DPS, despite the two parties sharing a pro-Western orientation. However, if the election mirrors the poll, Europe Now will face a tough job to form a ruling coalition without the pro-Russian parties if it wants to keep the DPS out of power.
Last-minute smear campaign
Another potential coalition partner, URA, has now been ruled out by Europe Now, which suspects Abazovic of being behind a smear campaign against Spajic.
Just days before the vote, Abazovic revealed a letter apparently sent by fugitive gambling mogul Do Kwong, who was arrested in Montenegro earlier this year, claiming he had business ties with Europe Now’s leader.
In the letter sent to Abazovic, outgoing Justice Minister Marko Kovac and the Special State Prosecution, Kwong also claimed that he financed Europe Now.
Europe Now has accused Abazovic of playing dirty, and claimed that the outgoing prime minister ordered Kwong to sign the letter in exchange for his release on bail.
“The alleged letter that the fugitive from justice Do Kwon sent to everyone, and in the end it turned out that he sent it miraculously only to Dritan Abazovic, who then forwarded it to the others, according to confession of the Minister of Justice Marko Kovac, was written by Do Kwon’s lawyer of the Kotor clan Branko Andjelic, together with Artan Kurti, several times convicted of attempted murder and wounding, upon the order of Abazovic,” Europe Now said.
The Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT) NGO condemned Abazovic’s actions and urged the prosecution to clarify the situation without delay.
While the pro-Western formations seem to be war with each other, the far-right pro-Russian group of parties is not in a better position. Leaders of the three parties in Montenegro’s pro-Russian Democratic Front said in mid-May that the group has collapsed and the three parties will run separately in the June 11 election.
The Democratic Front consisted of New Serb Democracy (NSD), the Democratic People’s Party (DNP) and the Movement for Changes (PZP). They joined forces 11 years ago and succeeded in building the second-largest political formation in the country.
Although the three leaders said they will act independently, two of the parties, NSD and the DNP, will continue in coalition with another party, the Labour Party (RP).
Milan Knezevic, leader of the DNP, said that after the vote the coalition will seek to partner with its former allies but on clear coalition terms that rule out any cooperation with the DPS.
These smaller parties are among a total of 15 parties and coalitions that will compete to pass the 3% threshold and enter the 81-seat parliament on June 11.
542,468 people are eligible to vote in the general election but there are no projections on the turnout.
After the August 2020 general election a broad spectrum of parties ranging from Western-oriented liberals to far-right pro-Russians put aside their political differences to back a government that did not include the DPS. They included the Democratic Front, URA and the leaders of Europe Now who served as ministers in the government led by ex-prime minister Zdravko Krivokapic — the first in Montenegro without the participation of DPS. The coalition eventually fractured, only to re-form later.
This time around, the vote is likely to be split between Europe Now, the DPS and multiple small parties and coalition, making it again a struggle to form a stable coalition.