Montenegro’s ruling DPS suspected of staging “coup attempt” ahead of election

Montenegro’s ruling DPS suspected of staging “coup attempt” ahead of election
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia October 23, 2016

Suspicions are growing that the arrest of 20 Serbs on the eve of the October 16 general election in Montenegro was connected to the electoral campaign of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led by veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. 

The DPS, which has been in power since Montenegro became independent 10 years ago, 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 it won the largest share of the vote, a group of opposition parties say they may try to form a majority post-election. 

On the night of October 15, Montenegrin police arrested 20 Serbian paramilitaries on suspicion of planning to 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 was suspected of planning to obtain automatic weapons and attack state institutions, the police and representatives of state authorities, including top state officials. Local media reported that they were planning to arrest Djukanovic. Dikic and most of the group were interrogated and held in jail for 72 hours.

“This [the coup attempt being part of DPS’ 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 Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) said in an October 21 comment on the elections.

Suspicions that the coup attempt was actually arranged by DPS have also been voiced within Montenegro following the statement from the special prosecutor for organised crime, Milivoje Katnic, who claimed that the group was planning a terrorist attack on election day. 

In an October 20 interview with television channel TV Vijesti, Katnic said that the police had proof of the planned attacks. “They aimed to support people in front of the parliament and enter this institution dressed in uniforms of a special police unit and then open fire,” Katnic said.

He also claimed that a second terrorist group had been planning to help the Serb paramilitaries.

According to OSW, it is possible that the arrested Serbs had planned to cause social unrest in connection with the elections and 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.

However, if the incident was a DPS ploy, it could have backfired. The alleged coup attempt was among the main reasons for the decision of Montenegro’s opposition not to recognise the election results. On October 17, the Democratic Front (DF), the Kljuc coalition, Demokratska Crna Gora and the Social Democrats (SD) decided they would not recognise the results, claiming there were huge irregularities. The parties pointed out that a fair and transparent election cannot be held when a coup is about to happen in a country.

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. Second came the DF with 20.27% (18 seats), followed by the Kljuc coalition with 11.06% (nine seats), Demokratska Crna Gora with 9.99% (eight seats), the SDP with 5.23% (four seats). The SD and the Bosniak party will have two mandates each, while the coalition of Albanian parties and the Croatian Civil Initiative party will have one MP each.

Despite claiming that they will not recognise the elections, the opposition said that will not block the work of the new parliament. They still hope to attract the ethnic parties – the DPS’ traditional allies – and form a government without Djukanovic. On the other hand, the DPS has invited the ethnic parties and SD to join their coalition.

The ethnic parties, which will most likely have the decisive role in the formation of a new government, will meet on October 24 to discuss which side to support.