Will the era of change ring in Montenegro? Will the ineradicable Milo Djukanovic fall from his pedestal during the presidential election, the first round of which is being held this Sunday, March 19?
The 61-year-old president has presided over the country’s destiny for more than thirty years. He has been in turn Prime Minister and President of Montenegro since 1991 – during the time of Yugoslavia, then of Serbia and Montenegro and finally of Montenegro, which he led to independence in 2006. And his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS ) held all the levers of power until he was ousted during the August 2020 legislative elections by a heterogeneous coalition whose only common point was to want to turn the page.
“Milo Djukanovic was blowing a bad wind on the coalition”
In this small country of 620,000 inhabitants, “this change had aroused immense hope and then great disillusionment”, reports Srdjan Cvijic, of the think tank Belgrade center for security policy. The highly unstable coalition faced motions of no confidence and the country found itself paralyzed, unable to form a government since last summer. “Milo Djukanovic was blowing a bad wind on this coalition,” he adds.
Despite the desire for change which was again manifested by the retreat of the DPS during the local elections last October, it is not certain that Milo Djukanovic will be removed from power. The ballot promises to be very open. According to the polls, three of the seven presidential candidates are likely to reach the second round.
“Djukanovic could still win”
Who of the other veteran of Montenegrin politics, Andrija Mandic – of the Democratic Front, very close to the authoritarian regime of Alexander Vucic in Belgrade – or the young 36-year-old liberal Jakov Milatovic, newcomer to politics and co-founder of the Europe party? Now, will face Milo Djukanovic in the second round scheduled for April 2?
“Mandic is scary, he represents Serbian dominance and is seen as someone who wants to divide the country. Facing him, Djukanovic could still win, while he would have every chance of being ousted against Milatovic, ”explains Srdjan Cvijic. This, even though Milatovic entered the presidential race only very recently, not even a month ago, when the electoral commission hastened to disqualify his party’s candidate Milojko Spajic, because of his dual Serbian nationality.
Legislative elections set for June 11
Even if the presidential office is largely ceremonial, the departure of Djukanovic would be symbolically very important to mark a change of course after three decades of authoritarian rule. And power largely tainted by suspicions of corruption, election fraud and links to organized crime. In 2015, the network of investigative journalists on corruption and organized crime OCCRP named Milo Djukanovic “man of the year in organized crime”.
There is no doubt that his DPS party would accelerate its decline during the legislative elections to be held on June 11. Faced with the impossibility of finding a majority to govern the country, the president dissolved Parliament by decree on Thursday 16 March. “Montenegro is completely paralyzed on its European path and it is necessary to put an end to this politico-institutional crisis as soon as possible”, he justified.
“Let’s hope that these legislative elections will be played out on another political terrain than that of toxic debates on identity issues”, wishes Srdjan Cvijic. According to him, the departure of Djukanovic should facilitate this change of discourse and allow Montenegro to focus again on integration into the European Union. “This small country, he believes, without conflict with its neighbors, has the best chance of becoming the 28th state of the EU”.
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