President and parliament locked in power struggle to control Montenegro

President and parliament locked in power struggle to control Montenegro
President Milo Djukanovic is refusing to give a mandate to Miodrag Lekic of the civic Demos party to form a government. / DPS
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia November 9, 2022

Thousands of Montenegrins protested on November 8 against the parliament’s decision to change the law on the president, limiting his powers. They also demanded an early election instead of a new government.

The protests, organised by President Milo Djukanovic’s former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), were the latest move in the power struggle between Djukanovic and the new majority in parliament. 

Montenegro is going through the deepest political crisis in decades as Djukanovic is refusing to give a mandate to Miodrag Lekic of the civic Demos party to form a government despite his nomination by 41 out of 81 MPs. Djukanovic claims this parliament should be dissolved and an early vote should be called.

A coalition of 20 parties is trying to force the president to give the mandate to Lekic. As part of these efforts, the MPs of the coalition amended the law earlier in November, claiming the changes would bring clarity to the duties of the president and would put an end to the current political crisis by forcing Djukanovic to give a mandate to form a government to the candidate proposed by the ruling majority.

However, Djukanovic as expected vetoed the changes and the parliament now has to vote on them again.

Under the amendments, the president is obliged to propose a prime minister-designate if the candidate has the support of 41 MPs in parliament. In case no such majority is formed, the president has to organise a second round of consultations with political parties and propose another candidate.

A majority of at least 41 MPs can sign a petition to propose a prime minister-designate if the president refuses to nominate a candidate.

According to the constitution, the president can propose a prime minister-designate only with the signed support of at least 41 MPs.

The protesters, around 15,000 according to the organisers, carried banners reading ‘Stop spreading hatred’, ‘We no longer have a choice – we want elections’, ‘For the EU’ and shouted offensive slogans against Montenegro’s outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

“We must restore order and institutional strength, get back on the European path. This is a fight for the right to a decent life. Let us have elections, for the people to have their say, so we can get Montenegro back on the European path after elections. We have just started and we will not stop until each one of the goals is achieved,” DPS member Danijel Zivkovic said during the rally as quoted by N1.

“We exist and we are a lot. And there is Montenegro. Free, civil, multiethnic, independent. And there will be Montenegro. European. And there will be us. Whenever it is necessary,” Djukanovic wrote on Twitter on November 9.

On the same day, the leaders of the political parties tried to gather to seek an exit from the crisis. However, as Djukanovic did not attend the meeting, the leaders of several parties from the ruling coalition left, claiming that DPS and the president do not want a conversation.

Meanwhile, the European Union has called on lawmakers to find a way to resolve the crisis and to appoint judges to the constitutional court. Its work has been blocked for weeks, as the mandate of several judges has expired but the parliament is unable to elect new ones, because the DPS is not attending the sessions.

“EU deeply concerned by 1 Nov Parliament vote. Legislative acts must be in line with the constitution. EU urges all actors to urgently appoint Constitutional Court members. Progress on EU path depends on functionality of democratic institutions,” Peter Stano, spokesman in charge of the EU’s external affairs, wrote on Twitter.

Djukanovic decided to ask the Venice Commission for an opinion on the changes to the law, claiming they breach the constitution.