[Opinion] : Road to nowhere in Montenegro


By Miodrag Vlahović, @Mico_Vlahovic

Podgorica, 19 June 2023, / –  Early parliamentary elections in Montenegro attracted the lowest turnout ever (56%). They have not brought major surprises. The populist movement “Europe Now!” gained seats in parliament, as expected. It won only a thin majority (24 MPs to 21) over the “Together” coalition led by former President Djukanović’s DPS. That creates additional uncertainities and confusion in an already compromised and disrupted political situation.

Government formation faces challenges

One thing seems clear: no coalition is possible between the two largest parliamentary groups. Milojko Spajić will almost certainly be given the mandate to form the the next government. He excludes any possibility of forming a cabinet with DPS.

Spajić also rejects a coalition with incumbent “technical” Prime Minister Abazović’s URA Movement, which won 12.5% and 11 seats (together with “Democratic Montenegro”). The bitter feud between the two is based on still unproven accusations of illegal election funding by a South Korean crypto-currency trader, now under investigation. The outcome of that proceeding may be harmful both for Spajić and Abazović. It has already become an important – if not the most important – feature of post-election Montenegro.

The pro-Serbian, pro-Russian For the Future of Montenegro coalition won 14.7% and 13, which puts them in a vital position despite a big decline from the previous election.

The country is not in good shape

Parliamentary elections in August 2020 expelled DPS from the majority. Despite much pro-EU rhetoric, the results since have been poor. Two annual EU Commission reports on Montenegrin progress have shown regression, despite EU Commissioner for Enlargement Varhelyi’s effort to support the populists who took power. In the meantime, the two anti-DPS governments have caused dissaray in all segments of social, economic, and political life, with clear signs of influence coming from Belgrade and Moscow. 

The last barrier against collapse remains Montenegro’s NATO membership. Even that was significantly compromised by intentional disruption of important activities of Agency for National Security against the Serbian/Russian spy network in the country. Abazović has overseen constant, debilitating purges there.

Spajić promotes a wishful thinking economic program, “Europe Now 2.0.” But even he acknowledges the country is on the brink of financial implosion. “No salaries for public servants after September,” he has stated bluntly. But that has not prevented him from promising increases in salaries and pensions while announcing elimination of the state Pension Fund! Those voters who supported Spajić as well as two other coalitions close to Serbian President Vučić ignore the risk of economic crisis. They count on promises of miraculous progress by a new government empowered soon.

They may find themselves utterly surprised. Neither Spajić nor Jakov Milatović, the vice-president of “Europe Now!” and newly elected President, can guarantee political harmony even within their own political ranks. Milatović remains close not only to Serbian President Vučić, but also to Abazović. That complicates Spajić’sposition.

The internationals

The Western diplomatic community in Podgorica prefers stability underwritten by a stable qualified majority in the Parliament. They ignore the perils of participation by pro-Serbian and pro-Russian parties, despite their anti-NATO and de facto anti-EU standings. The problem will be how to include the ethnic minority parties (Bosniak, Albanian, and Croatian) in the new government. Western diplomats may intend to politely order them to join.

Both Abazović and Milatović, together with other leaders of the projected majority, support the Serbian proposal for “Open Balkans,” which the US backs. Spajić is unlike to oppose it if he wants to become prime minister.

So, the proverb has been confirmed: “once you enter the wrong train – all the stations are the wrong ones.” Montenegro entered the wrong train in August 2020. Insisting on continuing the journey does not ensure but rather endangers Montenegrin political stability and economic viability. It is a destructive and detrimental project. The next station may have the name “Grave Consequences.” The names of other “stations” would not be good even to mention here…

The return from the road to nowhere will be long and painful. The later it comes, the worse it will be.

Miodrag Vlahović, is former Montengrin Minister of Foreign Affairs and former ambassador to US. He is now president of the Montengrin Helsinki Committee.

This opinion of his was first published at website.           

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