Spat over police chief's appointment puts survival of Montenegrin government at risk

Spat over police chief's appointment puts survival of Montenegrin government at risk
The government of Montenegro discussed the candidates for acting police chief at a session on March 13. /
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 13, 2024

The stability of Montenegro’s government has been seriously shaken after a conflict between Interior Minister Danilo Saranovic and Prime Minister Milojko Spajic over the election of an acting police chief.

This comes days after President Jakov Milatovic left the ruling Europe Now (PES) party and was followed by several of its members, including two MPs.

On March 12, the government in Podgorica held a session to elect the acting head of the police as the mandate of the previous chief of the police directorate, Nikola Brdjanin, expired at midnight.

Saranovic was supposed to propose candidates for the post. A few days earlier, he organised polygraph testing for seven candidates. Four of them failed, the results of one test were inconclusive and just two passed.

Saranovic refused to disclose the names of those who passed but proposed only one candidate – Lazar Scepanovic – during the marathon session of the government that ended three hours after midnight.

According to the government’s statement, Scepanovic’s nomination was opposed by the majority of ministers and Saranovic was asked to propose another candidate, which he has refused to do.

After Saranovic’s refusal, the government authorised Spajic to nominate another candidate – Aleksandar Radovic – who was subsequently appointed.

According to Montenegrin internal affairs law, Spajic can only propose a candidate, while the government must elect him.

Despite that, Saranovic claimed on March 13 that the law was violated and said he will file a claim against Spajic.

“At the proposal of the prime minister, and taking over the authority of the interior minister, the government voted for Aleksandar Radovic to be illegally appointed as acting head of the police. My legal team will take all necessary actions to protect the legality and constitutionality, the rule of law, and the security of our country,” Saranovic said as quoted by public broadcaster RTCG.

In a statement, the government said that Radovic was picked as Saranovic refused to propose another candidate from the list in accordance with law, which forced the government to authorise Spajic to nominate a candidate.

Before taking the post, Radovic was a member of the special police unit in charge of fighting organised crime and the police official in charge of cooperation with Europol. The government claimed he has done a lot to avoid inclusion of Montenegro in MONEYVAL’s grey list.

However, local media reported that Scepanovic was the favourite of Democratic Montenegro – of which Saranovic is a member – while Radovic was close to Spajic’s PES.

According to public broadcaster RTCG, Saranovic sent a letter to Spajic, warning him that if his candidate is not elected, that would breach the law. The government claims that Saranovic refused to provide the CVs of the other six candidates, insisting on Scepanovic.

Moreover, according to RTCG, the government has found out that Scepanovic's polygraph test was carried out by his subordinate.

Nebojsa Medojevic, leader of the opposition Movement for Change (PZP), urged Democratic Montenegro to leave the ruling coalition, which would mean Spajic's government would not have a majority in parliament. Pro-Russian Medojevic said that Montenegro does not deserve a “dilettante and frivolous government” and called for an early election.

Ivan Vujovic, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), accused the government of completely destroying the security sector with the election of Radovic.

On the other hand, parliament speaker Andrija Mandic, leader of the For the Future of Montenegro (ZBCG) formation that is part of the ruling coalition, said that the election of acting chief of the police will not destroy the ruling majority.