Maelstrom in Montenegro: a coalition in crisis

Maelstrom in Montenegro: a coalition in crisis

Divisions within the ruling bloc in Montenegro’s parliament could threaten the country’s EU bid.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Key Montenegrin ruling coalition member party Democratic Front (DF) announced a boycott of Parliament following Parliament’s dismissal of pro-Serbian justice minister Vladimir Leposavic. The leaders of the bloc’s majority parties met for talks on the government’s future on July 6.

KEY INSIGHTS

– The ongoing standoff between the government and the Democratic Front will likely result in either a government reshuffle or new elections.
– The goal of EU accession by 2024 will likely be hindered by either of these outcomes.
– Montenegro’s ruling majority will continue to be divided by their approaches to Serbia and its role in the Balkans conflict.

DF, DPS, AND DOMESTIC DIVISIONS

At Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic’s urging and with opposition support, Parliament removed the country’s justice minister, Vladimir Leposavic, after he cast doubt on the classification of the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide. The Montenegrin parliament subsequently passed a resolution officially recognizing it as such. This resolution and the related political turmoil come after an international tribunal at the Hague upheld the conviction of Bosnian Serb former general Ratko Mladic for war crimes. Mladic was found guilty of genocide for directing the killing of 8,000 Muslims after his forces breached the municipality of Srebrenica, which was under UN protection.

In a historic upset on August 30, 2020, an opposition coalition of blocs with pro-Russia and pro-Serbia leanings defeated Montenegro’s pro-European ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), after a sweeping anti-DPS campaign by the Serbian Orthodox Church. President Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists had been in power since 1990, and Djukanovic still retains the largely ceremonial presidency. The major blocs making up the current ruling coalition following the 2020 election are Black and White, Peace is Our Nation, and For the Future of Montenegro. Prime Minister Krivokapic ran as the head of the For the Future of Montenegro bloc, which includes the DF and the Socialist People’s Party (SNP).

The removal of Leposavic is only the most recent rift to threaten the country’s disparate new ruling coalition. The Democratic Front had previously clashed with Krivokapic over his lack of cooperation with other coalition partners in proposing laws and appointing officials, and the For the Future of Montenegro bloc as a whole protested the government’s delay in signing a state agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church. In announcing its boycott of parliament, the Democratic Front accused its coalition partners of betraying the voters who had put them in power by cooperating with DPS on Leposavic’s removal and the passage of the resolution on Srebrenica.

During the regional conflict of the 1990s, Montenegro was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with Serbia, which became the state union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003.  Montenegro became an independent country in 2006 and a NATO member in 2017. Prime Minister Krivokapic announced on June 29 that Montenegro would also strive to achieve EU membership by 2024. However, the current crisis may call the feasibility of that goal into question.

1600px Danilo Türk and Milo Đukanović in 2010

Photo: Stanko Gruden/STA

CAN THE COALITION COME TOGETHER?

SNP President and initiator of the July 6 dialogue Vladimir Jokovic stated that two proposals emerged at the meeting of the ruling party: the election of a new government and the reconstruction of the existing one. At a previous majority meeting, DF had insisted on removing Krivokapic as Prime Minister and on holding elections by the end of the year. However, prior to the latest round of talks, Democratic Front MP Slaven Radunovic reversed course, stating that the ruling party representatives may agree to retain Krivokapic and that he hoped new elections would not be necessary.

The slim victory of the ruling coalition in August 2020 hindered the formation of the current technocratic government until December, and Kripokavic has since demonstrated a reluctance to entertain a government reshuffle to incorporate more partisan political figures. However, if no reshuffle occurs, a vote of no confidence and snap elections are highly likely.

Nevertheless, DF’s is not the first legislative boycott that Montenegro has experienced in recent years. Between 2016-2018, the then-opposition boycotted parliament after having demanded snap elections. In May, DPS also boycotted the work of the parliament following the legislature’s adoption of a law on prosecution appointments. Unlike these previous instances of boycott by the opposition, DF’s current standoff with the majority, as a member of the ruling coalition, risks a collapse of the coalition and the narrow margin that brought it to power.

These added stakes may prompt Krivokapic to propose a compromise, allowing some partisan ministers to enter the government while preserving a technocratic majority. If he does not, it is doubtful that the increasingly fragmented ruling coalition will manage to repeat its unprecedented victory in snap elections. With independence less than two decades in its past and a history of minimally prosecuting crimes from the war, issues related to Serbia and its role in the conflict will likely continue to cause rifts in the bloc, and a more political cabinet could only exacerbate this.

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EU PROSPECTS

On July 7, the President of the Parliament Aleksandar Becic called on parliamentary party leaders to open up a dialogue to discuss pending issues related to Montenegro’s European integration, including electoral legislation reforms, problems within the judicial system, and prolonged local election processes. The next round of discussions on the topic is set to take place in August.

Many of the issues that the dialogue touched on require a two-thirds or three-fifths majority to address and resolve, and the 2024 deadline for joining the EU underscores the urgency of beginning talks on the subject as soon as possible. However, many representatives of the For the Future of Montenegro bloc would not participate, as they believe resolving the rift within the parliamentary majority should occur before such discussions take place. Despite the important step of launching a dialogue, the abstention of key parties undermines the goal of the talks and precludes a consensus that would make such changes feasible.

Continued internal divisions over the interpretation of the history of conflict in the region along with the potential entrenchment of figures in the cabinet and government that urge closer ties and cooperation with Serbia – which was at only 48% policy alignment with the EU in 2020 – could complicate accession even further. Even if Krivokapic’s current technocratic government is not replaced in whole or in part with Serbia-leaning politicians, the resulting political turmoil would likely also hinder Montenegro’s bid for EU membership.

In combination with recent debt woes and the EU’s reluctance to directly bail Montenegro out from under them, these existing rifts and potential political scenarios render the country’s accession to the bloc by 2024 highly unlikely.

Any views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Internews.