It seems as though the Prime Minister and his allies found it much more important to include both “pro-Montenegrin” and “pro-Serbian” parties in the process of forming the Government, along with minority parties, as a prerequisite for initiating institutional work on national reconciliation, as promised.
A Minority Government for Everyone
On April 28, Montenegro got a new, minority Government. Prime Minister Dritan Abazović’s cabinet, however, is one of the largest in the country’s recent, three-decades long history of multi-party democracy.
More Ministers than MPs
The Abazović Cabinet consists of 4 vice-presidents and 18 ministers, with vice-presidents simultaneously serving as ministers. There are two expert, non-party ministers (the minister of culture and media, and that of science and technological development), one belonging to an extraparliamentary minority party (a minister without portfolio from the Croatian Civic Initiative), while the remaining ministers represent parties and coalitions with a total of 16 MPs in Parliament (SNP - 6, the “Crno na Bijelo” coalition - 4, the Bosniak Party - 3, SDP - 2, and Albanian national parties - 2).
Therefore, an observer may be quick to point out that the new Government has more members than the parties forming it have MPs. The “missing” votes were provided by Milo Đukanović’s DPS (29 MPs), lending credence to the idea that the party has resumed power through the “back door”. This is another current Montenegrin phenomenon.
While DPS representatives consistently repeated that “without DPS, there is no majority”, and that the “fate of the government is in their hands”, their new coalition partners from Abazović’s Civic Movement URA equally insisted that “DPS would never return to power”. They then proceeded to vote together to elect the new Government and Speaker of the Assembly (Danijela Đurović, SNP).
The Opposition Benches
The “Pro-Serbian” Democratic Front and Democratic Montenegro (Demokratska Crna Gora) have moved to the opposition. The former see that label as their most significant quality, insisting on their connections to Belgrade and Moscow. Their political opponents have been critical of their (Greater-)Serbian nationalism and cleronationalism, whereas the Democrats themselves insist that they are non-national, offering up as proof their electoral slogan from the previous campaign - “Peace is our nation”.
The “Pro-Montenegrin” Social Democrats (a party close to DPS, split from SDP in 2015 on the question of continued support to Đukanović). In their interpretation, defending state and national interests was more important than the ministerial positions they were offered. The new Government tells a different story: SD’s numerous affairs from its time in power with DPS have made it unacceptable as a political partner - for the “pro-Serbian” Socialist People’s Party most of all, though URA and SDP have also made no attempts to bridge the gap.
Bridging the gaps
It seems as though the Prime Minister and his allies found it much more important to include both “pro-Montenegrin” and “pro-Serbian” parties in the process of forming the Government, along with minority parties, as a prerequisite for initiating institutional work on national reconciliation, as promised. The trick is, above all, to reconcile politicians and their followers from the so-called “orthodox majority”, while working on strengthening trust between that majority and “unquestionable” minorities (Montenegrin citizens, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, Roma, etc.) in a country defined by the Constitution as a civic state.
However, it is evident that, in the field, this approach has failed to produce the promised reconciliation, instead leading to new intra-block divisions. That is why the Democrats are insisting that SNP is excluded from the local government in Berane, due to their “treachery”, though SNP has the strongest support among voters of the pro-Serbian majority, which had already governed the municipality for two terms. For its part, the SNP has responded that, if they are excluded from the government in Berane, they would topple the ruling majorities in Mojkovac and Nikšić, wrested from DPS last year with a lot of effort.
At the same time, along with SD, Draginja Vuksanović Stanković, until recently the president of the SDP, was vocal in her opposition to forming an “SNP government”, insisting that there was no room in the government for those who supported Slobodan Milošević’s policies, and opposed Montenegrin independence and NATO membership. Though it failed to garner significant support, this view has its supporters in the “pro-Montenegrin” block.
In this national context, it is important to point out that Abazović, as an ethnic Albanian, is the first Montenegrin Prime Minister from a national minority, and that his cabinet is the most ethnically diverse to date, with six of its members (one third), the Prime Minister included, coming from minority communities, five of whom were elected on national minority lists.
The matter of gender equality is somewhat different. There are only four women in the government (one quarter), a number only achieved after pressure from the media and NGOs, with the original list of ministers having included only two women. Through the lens of political positions, one can conclude that, following a majority right-wing government, Montenegro is now governed from the center-left, with most of its members either seeing themselves as socialist (SNP, SDP, DPS) or green (URA). However, there is no expectation that matters requiring such ideological determinations will be at the top of the government’s agenda.
It is interesting that Abazović, having served as the Vice President of the previous government, and having initiated the idea of an “expert government” in the first place, has chosen not to retain any of the previous government’s ministers. Some have been given positions as his advisors (the former ministers of police and foreign affairs), some are preparing to enter politics as critics of the new government (the former ministers of finance and economic development), while former Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić seems to have opted for a return to political obscurity, still claiming that his government was the “best in Montenegro’s history”.
According to PM Abazović, his Government’s priorities will be:
- Rebuilding institutions - the judiciary and prosecution, including the Constitutional Court, are currently functioning in an acting capacity, with leadership roles having no full mandate, and offices understaffed by judges and prosecutors. The new majority, however, does not have enough MPs (a minimum of 49) to push these appointments through on its own. Neither the previous nor the current governments have managed to initiate talks with the opposition on this matter.
- Amending the electoral legislation before new elections are held. The Democrats have already announced that they would boycott any Parliamentary bodies working on amending the electoral legislation. Then the new Parliamentary majority, contrary to the opposition’s wishes, and, according to legal scholars and analysts, illegally postponed holding a package of local elections (around fifteen municipalities, Podgorica being one) to the fall, “October 30th at the latest”. According to some, this is a way for the new majority to buy time to strengthen their positions at the local level via state-level executive power, whereas others think that the passage of time, combined with their cooperation with DPS, will additionally erode the positions of the parties forming the new Government. In any case, that decision has definitely not contributed to building inter-party trust.
- “Deblocking” Montenegro’s EU Accession negotiations and strengthening its NATO partnership. SNP’s positions on this will be dubious, especially in the context of the current EU/NATO-Russia conflict.
- Signing the Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church and possible accession to the Open balkans project. SDP and DPS oppose this. The relationship between the state and the Serbian Orthodox Church has been an issue dividing Montenegro since 1919, and there are no indications that the problem of the national prefix for the Orthodox Church in Montenegro could be resolved in the foreseeable future.
- All parties support the fight against corruption and crime, at least verbally. The formation of the new Government coincided with the arrest of Vesna Medenica (former President of the Constitutional Court and former Prosecutor General), Blažo Jovanić (President of the Commercial Court), who stand accused of abuse of power and forming/membership of criminal groups exerting illegal influence over court decisions and bankruptcy procedures. Additionally, the media has published part of the documents Montenegro received from Europol, accusing several high-ranking Police and National Security Agency officials of allegedly taking part in narcotics smuggling and cooperating with the warring criminal clans in Kotor. These officials are seen by the public as part of the former DPS elite, which makes the party’s return to power especially bitter.
What will the new Government mean for Đukanović and DPS?
Inevitably, unwinding the criminal and corruption cases that have been piling up will lead back to Đukanović, in one way or another, shining the spotlight on his business and political past, as well as future. The incumbent President of Montenegro, as well as DPS, was an inextricable part of most of these affairs via his state offices, private and family interests. Whether he can escape unscathed when these affairs reach their epilogue is a question dividing Montenegro, with the assumption that this decision will not be made by Podgorica alone growing ever louder.
This brings us back to the inauguration of Abazović’s Government.
Gossip about this “international project” was given life in early November last year. Before Gabriel Escobar, U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans visited Montenegro, those with knowledge of the matter announced that there would be a no-confidence vote against Krivokapić, and that a new minority government would be elected with DPS support, led by Abazović. They got two things wrong: according to them, the new government was supposed to be elected before the Budget for 2022 was passed, which was supposed to be preceded by Đukanović’s announcement that he would not run for the DPS presidency again.
Things have now changed significantly. The plan was not carried out within the specified deadline, and the war in Ukraine has produced a new line of division, both domestically and internationally. Đukanović and his DPS have deftly used the crisis to strengthen their international positions, though all members of the new Government, as well as some opposition parties (SD and the Democrats), have expressed support for their Western partners.
Returning to power, at least by supporting the minority Government, has temporarily tamed the intra-party battle for Đukanović’s successor, since everyone expected him not to run for the party presidency again (his candidacy for another term as President of Montenegro is not yet on the agenda, even though the Presidential elections must be held until spring next year). Stepping back from the party presidency seems less likely now, though many are drawing parallels to Ivo Sanader’s fate.