In May, as Montenegro celebrates 10 years of its independence, a new government is being forged with no elections preceding it – a government that is supposed to ensure trust in the electoral process.
This is apparently the positive outcome of several months of dialogue between the authorities and opposition, with the aim of improving conditions for holding fair and democratic elections. Such a prolonged political crisis was marked by the opposition fighting furiously for the chance to expose electoral malpractice, stop fraud, prevent the misuse of state funds, and enable – at least for a short period of time – the de-politicization of the public broadcaster, TVCG. A long-awaited agreement signed on April 26, which aims to allow for the opposition to enter the state institutions, responded to most of these requests, at least according to the expectations of participants in the dialogue. It provides the opposition with the ministries of Finance, Labor, Interior and Agriculture, the vice presidency, and participation in 16 institutions, plus state-owned enterprises and local institutions, with a total of 190 places. The government of “electoral trust” will be enabled by means of special legislation (lex specialis), which is in parliamentary procedure and foresees that its mandate will last until the official announcement of the election results this autumn.
A lot has happened in Montenegrin parliamentary life in the past year. The Democratic Front (DF), a strong opposition coalition, has left the Parliament, and chose protests as way of operation; the 18-year-long DPS ally, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), has been torn into two parties and has finally delivered on its promise to break things off with DPS, while a once promising opposition party, Positive Montenegro, has embraced DPS and saved it from losing a vote of no confidence. In the meantime, three parties that did not even exist at the time of the last parliamentary elections have now gained significant popular support.
However, the agreement reached after a long period of fruitless talks was sharply criticized by national political actors who refused to sign it. The harsh assessments that can now be heard from DF leaders, calling it “the coalition agreement” and announcing new protests, neglect the fact that the key demands of their protests were not only Đukanović’s resignation but also entering the institutions, calling for an interim government which was never well elaborated. Protests guided by DF proved to be too much for the organizers, without clearly defined requirements and goals, and without the broad support of other political entities in the country. All this was followed by several months’ boycott of parliamentary functions, but with the announcement that they would participate in a parliamentary session to discuss the agreement. At the same time, DF refused to participate in a dialogue and to agree on hot spots in the government that have to be controlled, and they now doubt the well-identified sectors.
As it stands now, though several political parties, including Positive Montenegro, have signed the agreement, places in the government will be distributed between the SDP, DEMOS, the civic movement URA and the Socialist People’s Party (SNP), the parties that drew up this document. The last three have pledged they will not participate in the pre- and post-election arrangements with DPS. While other sharp criticism is based on the fact that two of the four parties that will participate in the government have so far not been tested at the elections, last year’s polls show that precisely these opposition parties enjoy the highest level of citizens’ trust after DPS (DEMOS 13%, URA 8%), as support to DF constantly declines. At the same time, after Montenegro received an invitation to join NATO in December, public support for DPS is slightly declining and is now around 40%, almost identical to that of the opposition. Hence, the prevention of possible abuse for party purposes becomes even more important.
Agreeing to all the opposition’s demands, Đukanović has the advantage even before the start of the electoral race. This has reduced the number of political entities that could call for misuse of resources, and has convinced the international community that the elections will take place in fair and democratic conditions. By skilful manipulation of fulfilling the preconditions for signing the agreement, such as for example the disposal of the RTCG editorial team resignation, Đukanović has significantly shortened his political opponents’ time to manoeuvre. On the other side, by signing the agreement, the opposition parties are committed to the recognition of the election results, and their signature means that, regardless of the shortness of time, they are taking responsibility for the control and prevention of abuse. Their primary goal should be to improve the transparency of the institutions, control and prevention of abuse, and not party interests. However, this proves to be a challenge even before entering government, taking into account the differences in the distribution of the highest position that the agreement provides, or in the choice of staffing.
While the appointed representatives of the opposition, on the political and expert levels, have full authority to act, a little more than four months is an extremely short period of time to do anything worth talking about regarding the oversight of public funds used for party purposes. Everything that could not be done in decades needs to be done in couple of months before this year’s elections, scheduled for October 9. What the opposition ministers will actually do, and whether there is a plan B that will save the opposition from Đukanović’s checkmate, remains to be seen.