After peacefully surviving the 1990s wars that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Montenegro’s politics and its society were determined by the relations with and independence from Serbia. In a 2006 referendum, a majority of 55.5 per cent declared to be in favour of independence, narrowly passing the official 55.5 per cent threshold. Anno 2021, Montenegro is in the process of EU accession - talks have been opened on all of the 33 negotiation chapters and provisionally closed three. On the one hand, the country has relatively good relations with other countries in South-East Europe. It is a frontrunner in the region when it comes to LGBTI Rights, has appointed an independent special prosecutor to tackle organised crime and high-level corruption, considerably improved the relations between civil society and the government, and aligned its foreign policy with the EU and became a NATO member in 2017.
On the other hand, business tycoons are dominating an economy that mostly runs on remittances and tourism, major incidents around election day are the rule rather than the exception, and the country has only recently experienced its first change of power at elections. While politically Montenegro is seeking closer ties with the West, its economy remains "looking East". The country is heavily dependent on Russian tourists and investments, while with its massive highway construction project the country is under threat of becoming "debt dependent" on China. As its economy relies on tourism, Montenegro was struck especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy shrank by 15% in 2020. The combination with the enormous debt towards China has put the recently installed new government in a peculiar position.
After the August 2020 elections, Montenegro saw its first change of power since its independence in 2006. The country had been ruled by President Milo Đukanović's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) up until then. It remained the largest party, but was blocked by coalition of five different political forces, of which the largest is also comprised of six parties. They managed to form a government, with a slim majority of only one seat. The coalition was spearheaded by Zdravko Krivokapic, of For the Future of Montenegro. He was installed as prime minister in December of 2020, but is facing an almost insurmountable challenge, regarding Montenegro's poor financial situation. This is exagerrated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its Chinese debt. As such, the Krivokapic-led government has been reaching out to the EU for help.
In January 2022, the Krivokapic government fell after a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Several issues alluded to a government collapse. Coalition partners disagreed over several issues, primarily the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), the handling of ties with Serbia and Russia, and the stagnant EU accession procedure. Krivokapić’s appeasement of the SOC in Cetinje in September 2021 enraged thousands and caused mass demonstrations. Divisions in the coalition also arose when Krivokapić intended to replace justice minister Leposavić after he denied the Srebrenica genocide.
On April 28, 2022, the leader of the Black and White bloc (URA), Dritan Abazović, was elected as the new Prime Minister of Montenegro, with a mandate for a year. His minority government consists of the URA bloc, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Bosniak Party and two ethnic Albanian coalitions. They will form the government until the spring of 2023, when new elections will take place.
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- 622,137 (World Bank 2019)
- Governmental Type:
- Ruling Coalition:
- A minority coalition: United Reform Action (URA), Socialist's People's Party (SNP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Bosniak Party & the Albanian Coalition
- Last Elections:
- 2020 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- Spring 2023 (general elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Social Democratic Party (SD, SDP split-off)
Delicate position between the West and the East
Montenegro became a NATO member in June 2017. The country is also a candidate country for the EU, having opened all of the thirty three chapters in the EU negotiations, with three provisionally closed. The initial invitation to NATO led to protests by pro-Serbian parties and their supporters. Further protests were fueled by the opposition alliance Democratic Front (DF) who voiced accusations of corruption, undemocratic practices and election fraud against President Milo Đukanović (Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS). During the elections of 2016, several incidents occurred reflecting the seemingly mutually exclusive support for NATO and Europe, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other.
In the end, a 'pro-West’ coalition was formed led by DPS, who got the majority of votes. Although divided, the opposition has become stronger due to the reforms that went along with the EU integration process. The Russian government has been critical of Montenegro's bid to join NATO, which culminated in a coup attempt on 16 October 2016. Russia still has a large economic presence in Montenegro, with almost 30 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment in 2016 going to Montenegro coming from Russia. This, on top of the fact that roughly one-third of foreign companies operating in the country are owned by Russians. Although Russia has 'lost' Montenegro to NATO, the country remains determined to exert influence in the region.
Montenegro after its independence from Serbia
After World War II Montenegro became one of the six equal republics of the Yugoslav federation. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Montenegro remained in a union with Serbia as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. On 21 May 2006 a referendum was held, where the majority of the Montenegrin population (55.5 per cent) declared to be in favour of independence. With that, the threshold of 55 per cent, as stippled by the EU, was narrowly passed. Montenegro’s first parliamentary and presidential elections as an independent state as well as the parliamentary elections of October 2012 did not bring any big political changes.
Since 1998 SDP and DPS ruled together. The coalition has become less stable over time. At the national level, DPS blocked the adoption of a new electoral law. Failure to adopt this electoral law could lead to a serious political crisis. After the blockade, the main opposition party, the Democratic Front Party, left the parliament. They accused the DPS of obstructing the Assembly and urged the DPS to take responsibility for the political crisis. On the local level, the rapture between the two parties became apparent in 2013. This, while on a national level, the parties only broke just before the parliamentary election in 2016.
The blockade of the DPS has deepened the distrust between the opposition and the government, which started on April 2013 with electoral fraud and the misuse of state resources with regards to the presidential elections, announced the Democratic Front. Next to the national level, friction at the local level was visible as well; during local elections in 2013, the SDP decided to work together with an opposition party, which had never happened since DPS and SDP started ruling together. This new alliance could cause friction within the national coalition. For the April 2014 local elections in the capital of Podgorica, SDP formed a pre-election coalition with the new opposition party: 'Positive'.
2016 coup attempt
The country has been immersed in a coup drama since the 16 October 2016 general elections, when authorities arrested 20 people accused of planning armed attacks against government institutions. This group consisted of mostly Serb nationals, but also included two Russian citizens, Eduard Sirokov and Vladimir Popov, and two Montenegrin opposition leaders. Prime Minister at that time Milo Đukanović (DPS), whose party came out first in the election but without a parliamentary majority, had presented the vote as a chance for Montenegro’s 620,000 citizens to endorse his policy of joining NATO and the EU, instead of pursuing deeper ties with allies in Serbia and Russia.
Since then, tensions have built up, and the situation became even tenser after the nation’s special prosecutor lifted the parliamentary immunity of two leaders who were suspected of having participated in a failed coup. In February 2017, riot police were stationed to restrain hundreds of protesters who gathered in front of the parliament in Podgorica to protest against the motion lifting the two leaders’ immunity. It is assumed by the government that the coup to attack Montenegro’s parliament and kill Đukanović was directed by Russian intelligence officers to sabotage the country’s plan to join NATO. Nonetheless, Montenegro joined NATO in April 2017 as the parliament voted 46-0 for joining the alliance. The opposition boycotted the vote and protested outside the parliament building. Only SDP voted, from the opposition, for NATO membership. The relationship between Podgorica and Moscow has further deteriorated due to Montenegro’s NATO membership.
Parliament, dominated by the Democratic Party of Socialists, lifted one of the opposition leaders Medojevic‘s immunity as per requested by the special prosecutor for organised crime, Milivoje Katnic. Katnic said police should take Medojevic in for questioning, after which a decision on his possible arrest would be made. Medojevic is known as one of the sharpest critics of the government and the ruling party run by veteran leader Milo Đukanović. But the question remains whether this was a genuine coup attempt. On the one hand, it is claimed that it was a sinister effort to overturn a democratically elected administration and take over the country by force. On the other, critical analysts argue that it was a carefully choreographed event, designed to win sympathy for a controversial and allegedly corrupt ruling party that has been in power since 1991 on the verge of decreasing public support.
These critics believe that the government sought to manipulate the situation to its advantage. Although the indictment says Velimirović told authorities about the plot several days before the election, there was no mention of it in the media until election day itself, when the arrests of several alleged conspirators were announced. Internet communication services such as WhatsApp and Viber were cut off for hours during the day. All of these elements contributed to the sense that the country was in danger — a sense that may have persuaded some voters to rally behind the ruling party for the sake of stability.
Allegations of corruption
After the presidential elections in April 2013, won narrowly by DPS candidate Filip Vujanović, allegations of misuse of public resources were even more prominent. Under pressure from the opposition, the SDP (junior partner in the governing coalition) and Brussels, the so-called process of 'restoring confidence in the electoral process' started. An inquiry team was founded in which all the parties were represented, in addition to the representatives from the NGO sector, while Brussels also provided technical assistance. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 states that pervasive corruption, marked by nepotism, political favouritism, and weak controls over conflicts of interest in all branches of the government is one of the biggest problems in Montenegro.
In the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International, Montenegro scored 45, which is one point more than in 2013. Since 2013 it has moved from the 67th position to the 64th position (together with Oman, Senegal, South Africa and Suriname). Freedom of media continues to be a problem in Montenegro and in December 2015 the European Parliament’s Montenegro rapporteur condemned the attacks on activists and politicians by the media and urged in a resolution to continue OSCE-facilitated dialogue on improving ethical and professional standards in the media.
EU accession negotiations
In 2008, Montenegro applied for EU membership. In December 2011, the Council launched the accession process intending to open negotiations in June 2012, which started on the 29th of June. Since its accession process, each year, the European Commission has presented a (progress) report for Montenegro. In the 2016 report, it was said that Montenegro's priority should be reformed and concern the rule of law, which could be ‘demonstrated by tangible results on fighting corruption and organised crime’. Prioritising rule of law was important because it would determine the pace of the negotiations. The EU also stressed the need to improve the economy due to increasing public debt and to strengthen the administrative capacity to ensure the application of the European acquis.
Currently, 33 out of 33 chapters are opened and 3 chapters have been provisionally closed. For the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and their leader Milo Đukanović, the EU accession is less favourable. In the case of accession, there would be more supervision on his work, powers would be transferred to the parliament and the rule of law would be strengthened. This will put pressure on the power basis of Đukanović and could result in charges against him, something we have seen happen in Croatia with former Prime Minister Ivo Sander. Moreover, the accession process gives other parties less of a reason to work together with the DPS.
Anti-corruption protest erupt in 2019
In February 2019, protests against President Milo Đukanović and his government started, calling on his resignation following the accusation of corruption and electoral fraud. The protests kicked off after media revealed footage and documents that appear to show top officials accepting suspicious funds for the party of Đukanović, exposing the so-called “Atlas” and “Envelope” affairs. The DPS and Dukanovic quickly denied any wrongdoing claiming that all donations were recorded in the party’s financial records. Opposition parties supported the protests, which ended in summer 2019, but refrained from taking a leading role in the organisation behind the demonstrations or address the crowd.The organisation behind the protests is called Odupri Se! (Resist!) and consist of an informal group of intellectuals, academics, activists and journalists.
The official demand of the movement was that the government should fold for the formation of a technical government because the conditions for free and transparent elections are not in place. Moreover, they called for the resignation of President Đukanović and the chief prosecutor for organised crime, amongst other people. The movements were supported by people from the entire political landscape, with left-wing, moderate and right-wing factions working together in an attempt to oust the current government. On 4 December the Anti-Corruption Agency, ASk, published a report and subsequent ruling about the affair after it was pressured by opposition parties to release it. The ruling concluded that the DPS had failed to report 47.500 euro in donations, and issued a fine of 20.000 in response.
The fragile Krivakopić cabinet
After the 2020 elections, an awkward coalition formed between several parties to put Đukanović's DPS into opposition. It ended Đukanović's 30 year rule in Montenegro. The coalition was spearheaded by the independent new prime minister Zdravko Krivakopić, and included a variety of parties, the pro-Serbian Democratic Montenegro (DCG) and liberal United Reform Action (URA) standing out. Krivakopić was a major figure in the 2020 Montegrin protests after Đukanović tried to curb the power of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in the country. The relation with Serbia proved to be an important issue again for the new coalition. And quickly, relations between coalition parties soured due to geopolitical relations and a lack of economic progress.
In Cetinje, 2021, protests broke out in Cetinje after the SOC wanted to inaugurate a new metropolitan. Krivakopić and DCG tried to appease the situation, while URA asked for the ceremony to be organized elsewhere. On the other hand, a justice minister was voted from office after he denied the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Pro-Serbian elements in the coalition called the decision to let the minister off 'voter fraud', sparking anger in the coalition. Lastly, Krivakopić's stance towards coronavirus vaccination caused unrest in the coalition, as he allegedly refused to be inoculated. He also refused to wear a mask on several occasions.
The EU accession process remains stalled. The Krivakopić cabinet hoped to speed the process up with the removal of Đukanović, however this proved to be in vain as political bickering has only made a possible EU accession increasingly difficult. In January 2022, URA filed a vote of no-confidence against Krivakopić and his cabinet. On February 5, 2022, the coalition fell.
April 2022 - A new minority coalition
The leader of the Black and White bloc (URA), Dritan Abazović, was elected on April 28, 2022 as the new Prime Minister of Montenegro, with a mandate for a year. His minority government consists of the URA bloc, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Bosniak Party and two ethnic Albanian coalitions. They will form the government until the spring of 2023, when new elections will take place.
His former coalition partners, the pro-Serbian ‘For the Future of Montenegro’ and “Peace is Our Nation”, accuse Abazović of betrayal and boycotted the vote on Thursday, April 28. 45 members of the 81-seat Montegrin Parliament voted in favour of the new minority coalition.
Abazović said he finally wanted to speed up EU integration. He is considered a pro-democratic, liberal and moderate in the Montenegrin political landscape. He said: “I will lead an active political dialogue to improve the atmosphere in society and reduce the country’s polarization. I do not agree that Montenegro should be divided into two opposing sides, but develop as a civil state with respect for all differences.”
The DPS of Dukanovic sees a return to power in the new minority government, as it will deliver key political support from the opposition. An DPS MP reacted delighted: “Despite expectations, we didn’t disappear from the political scene. At the moment, the DPS supports this government, but we will return to power at full capacity in a very short period of time.”
Five issues will be key to the new government, according to Abazović: EU integration, battling corruption, sustainable investment and development, protection of the environment and better care for children and the youth. All eyes in Montenegro will now be on the EU integration process – especially now a window of opportunity looms due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, Russian, and especially Serbian influence remains of importance in the country.
Female representation and women's rights
Women remain significantly underrepresented in Montenegrin politics. In the presidential election of 2008, no female candidates competed. The 2012 parliamentary elections provided for an improvement in women election participation with a total of 264 women that stood as candidates, declared to be a significant increase from past elections. In 2018, Draginja Vuksanović was the first female leader of a political in Montenegro up until the 2020 general elections. Despite such improvements, Montenegro lags behind on other Western-Balkan countries. As such, the Women’s Political Network (WPN) Montenegro is one of the organisations that been pushing hard to increase the current 24% share of female politicians to at least 30%.
That there is gender equality in Montenegro is widely considered a myth. Women continue to be discriminated against in Montenegro's patriarchal society. Especially when it comes to work, there is a large gap to be bridged. Women continue to paticipate much more in unpaid work and household care. This has only worsened drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In November 2020, 40% of women were unemployed. Througout the year, NGOs also reported an increase in domestic violence against women. This had everything to do with the country's COVID-19 restrictions.
When it comes to LGBTI rights legislation, Montenegro is frontrunner in the region, although much can still be improved. The country was ranked 11th out of all 48 European countries when it came to LGBTI rights legislation. Homosexuality has been legal in Montenegro since 1977 and its parliament took an important step in July of 2020, when it voted to recognize same-sex unions as of July 2021. In 2010, several laws were already adapted that prohibited discrimination based on someones sexual orientation and gender identity. This was a requirement for EU membership. However, same-sex marriage was declared unconsitutional when the country's consitution was adopted in 2007 though. Nothing has changed in that regard.
The LGBTI community also continue to face challenges that non-LGBTI people do not have to face. The progressive legislation has yet to result in more general acceptance of the LGBTI community among Mongenegro's populiation. Despite the important step that was taken in 2020, still 71% of Montenegrins declared that they considered homosexuality an illness. 50% also believed that it was a danger to society and needed to be oppressed by the state. As such, many cases of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people remain unreported. As the country is tiny, the gay scene is rather small as well. A notable NGO is Queer Montenegro, which organises the annual Pride parades.
The parliamentary elections of 2020 ended a 30-year one-party rule. Until then, the Democratic Party of Socialist (DPS) had led the country. The DPS remains the largest, but since it could not obtain a majority coalition, it is the “For the Future of Montenegro”, “Peace is Our Nation” and the “Black and White” alliances that form the parliament’s ruling coalition. “For the Future of Montenegro” has seven political parties namely, Serbian Democracy, the Democratic People’s Party, Movement for Changes, the Socialist People’s Party, United Montenegro, the Workers Party and Real Montenegro. Together these parties obtained 27 seats.
The “Peace is Our Nation” alliance is composed of Democratic Montenegro and Demos, having 10 seats. The “Black and White” coalition has several parties, but only URA Civil Movement received seats, four in total. This means that the collaboration of these three alliances amounts to 41 seats, which is the threshold for a majority. The DPS is the largest opposition party with 30 seats. The Social Democrats and the Bosniak Party both obtained three seats each. The Social Democratic Party received two seats. The Albanian List and the Albanian Coalition got one seat each.
|Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS)||30|
| Democratic Front (FD) - For the Future of Montenegro Coalition
|Popular Movement - For the Future of Montenegro Coalition||3|
|Democratic Montenegro (DCG) - Peace is Our Nation Coalition||9|
|Demos - Peace is Our Nation Coalition||1|
|Civic Movement United Reform Action (URA) - Black and White Coalition||4|
|Social Democrats of Montenegro (SD)||3|
|Bosniak Party (BS)||3|
|Social Democratic Party (SDP)||2|
On 15 April 2018 voters could cast their ballots for the presidential elections. Of the seven candidates, the major candidates were Milo Đukanović of the ruling DPS, independent Mladen Bojanić (who was nevertheless supported by most opposition parties) and Draginja Vuksanović of the SDP. Incumbent president Filip Vujanović is ineligible for re-election. Leading up to the elections, the opposition tried to unite against the long-ruling DPS. Six-time prime minister Đukanović was nominated in early March by the DPS to run. In reaction to this decision most political parties, except for the SDP, united behind Bojanić.
Number of votes
Campaign and election
The long rule of Đukanović’s DPS was one of the central issues of the campaign. After serving once as president and six times as prime minister, most of the opposition parties wanted Mladen Bojanic to end his continuous rule. Bojanic accused the veteran leader of ‘’capturing the state." Many of the current problems, like the recent wave of violence caused by criminal organizations, have existed in Montenegro since the start of the rule of Đukanović according to Bojanic. "I agree with Đukanović that the state is stronger than the mafia. But the problem is that I do not know which side he is on."
Although the vote was relatively free, monitoring groups like CEMI and CT, reported voter irregularities at numerous polling stations. Members of the DPS were seen recording voters outside polling stations, possibly pressuring them. In the town of Berane, there were reports of possible vote-buying. Even very limited manipulation can have a major influence on the result: Montenegro is a small country and only 180.000 people voted for Đukanović which results in 53.9 per cent of the vote.
Social Democratic Parties
News and analysis
- BETA News Agency
- Civilitas Research
- Freedom house
- Institute for war and peace reporting
- Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty
- Transitions Online
- BBC country profile
- CIA world factbook
- United Nations – common country assessment
- US Department of State
- European Commission Serbia and Montenegro - Stabilisation and Association Report 2004
- European Union’s external relations with Serbia and Montenegro
- Commission Report 2012