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Analysis 12 Oct 12

Montenegro Ruling Party Faces Tough Test at Polls

Although the chances of a change of power are slim, the October 14 vote may pose a challenge to the party that has run the country since the 1990s.

Milena Milosevic BIRN Podgorica

As Montenegro’s election campaign nears its end, speculation grows over who may do best and whether the ruling party will finally face a serious challenge.

Recent polls conducted by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, CEDEM, and IPSOS Strategic Marketing suggested that the European Montenegro coalition, gathered around the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, will probably come first with around 47 per cent of the votes.

But the margin could be narrow, as the three main opposition groups, the Democratic Front, Positive Montenegro, and the Socialist People’s Party, SNP, could together win 43 per cent.

Their biggest problem is that their potential to form a united coalition remains poor. Hence, few analysts believe the DPS-led government will be ousted from power in the elections, though it could face a challenge.

Uncertain Outcome

Alone or along with various coalition partners, the DPS has won every election in Montenegro since 1990.

Since 1997, when it shifted away from the Serbian regime headed by Slobodan Milosevic, it has gained the confidence of the international community and of several of Montenegro's ethnic minorities, such as Bosniaks, Muslims, Albanians and Croats.

From 2000 onwards it championed the increasingly popular idea of restoring Montenegrin independence, forfeited after the end of the First World War.

In 2006 it pushed for, and won, a popular referendum on the issue, which resulted in the restoration of statehood.

Its strength was, in fact, seriously shaken only twice; once, in 1997, when a pro-Serbian faction broke away to form the SNP, and in 2001, when, after gaining only a slight advantage in the general election, it had to form a minority government.

But in the 2009 parliamentary elections its coalition won an absolute majority.

Nedjeljko Rudovic, political editor of the daily newspaper Vijesti, says this election may turn out to be the most interesting in 10 years, as the outcome is somewhat unclear.

He adds that whether the DPS-led coalition will have enough votes to gain an absolute majority of seats depends firstly on the election turnout and then on the percentage of so-called “dispersed” votes.

These are the votes of parties that did not succeed in passing the 3-per-cent threshold.

The electoral system, although based mainly on a proportional system of translating votes into parliamentary seats, slightly favours the main winner by transferring to it most of the dispersed votes.

“If I had to bet, I would say that European Montenegro won't have an absolute majority, so the support of minority parties will determine the winner,” Rudovic said.

Nikola Djurovic, political scientist and head of the Defacto consulting agency, says the Bosniak Party, BS, may end up holding the key to the outcome.

In previous elections, it ran with the DPS and its other allies. This time it ran alone, however, using the advantages of the new 2011 electoral law, which give preferential treatment to ethnic minorities that comprise less than 15 per cent of the population.

Around 8 per cent of Montenegrins declare themselves as Bosniaks. The only more numerous minority are the Serbs. But their minority status is disputed and neglected by the electoral law.

“It is still unclear what the BS will achieve and how it will behave after the elections,” Djurovic said.

Campaign

In run-up to Sunday’s vote, the DPS leader, Milo Djukanovic, has largely focused on the alleged danger to Montenegrin independence posed by the opposition, primarily the newly formed Democratic Front, which he has frequently accused of serving Serbia.

Rudovic said the DPS still assumes that such rhetoric will keep it in power, as the deteriorating socio-economic situation provides it with few other campaign arguments.

Ahead of the 2009 vote, Montenegro saw significant economic growth, with GDP growth reaching double digits in 2007, when it was 10.7 per cent.

But, starting from 2008, the European economic and financial crisis has had an effect on Montenegro and on its standard of living.

The newest European Commission’s progress report on the country, published on October 10, pointed out structural weaknesses of the economy, which it said were impeding economic recovery.

However, the opposition has not capitalized much on such economic questions.

The Democratic Front, an alliance formed in early July, did try to shift the focus away from the so-called national identity issues, and to push for reconciliation between supporters and opponents of Montenegrin independence.

But it has gathered under its wing some controversial personalities, seen as pro-Serbian advocates, and has failed to include representatives of ethnic minorities in its electoral list.

Its failure to agree on a joint coalition with the SNP also means that the opposition has been fatally unable to unite under one banner.

“The Democratic Front is sending reconciliatory messages but it’s a question whether the electorate will perceive them as such,” Djurovic noted.

New impulse

The Front does not now promise to have as far-reaching an impact on the political scene as another recently former party, Positive Montenegro.

Established in May, this is expected to gain the support of up to 10 percent of the electorate, and is seen as a factor that has significantly changed the face of the opposition.

“This party, unlike the rest of the opposition, has a clear pro-Montenegrin identity, which enables it to attract disillusioned ex-supporters of the ruling coalition,” Rudovic explained.

“They have introduced a new political culture by not trying to topple the regime, but pushing for a more constructive approach,” he added.

“They try to make clear that, if they win power, that won’t mean destabilization,” he continued.

Although noting the opposition’s potential to complicate the post-electoral mathematics, Rudovic believes that most ethnic minority parties still incline towards the DPS.

“Yet, the mere fact of the DPS-led coalition losing absolute power would mean a considerable breakthrough”.

“It would mean that, in a wider perspective, Montenegro is on the way to seeing the first shift of power in elections,” Rudovic concluded.

Djurovic, however, says it is premature to make long-term prognoses now about Positive Montenegro's future prospects.

“The first step for them is to enter parliament ... After one term in parliament, we'll see how they behave towards their political opponents and how the electorate will react to them,» he added.

Zlatko Vujovic, director of NGO Centre for Monitoring, CEMI, believes that whether the DPS wins an absolute majority depends on its ability to hold on to voters who may now feel ready to vote for Positive Montenegro.

He says that if the DPS loses its absolute majority, that will deliver a strong message. “That would be a strong blow to the monolithic structure of the ruling coalition,” he said.

 

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Analysis

montenegro-ruling-party-faces-tough-test-at-polls Montenegro Ruling Party Faces Tough Test at Polls

Although the chances of a change of power are slim, the October 14 vote may pose a challenge to the party that has run the country since the 1990s.

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