The new movement “Europe Now!” (PES) has garnered the most votes in the snap parliamentary elections in Montenegro, with around 25.6 percent. Voter turnout was less than 57 percent. Difficult coalition negotiations are expected.
The Europe Now Movement (PES) won close to 26 percent of votes in a snap election on Saturday June 11, marked by a record low voter turnout (below 57 percent).
National parties of Bosniaks, Albanians and Croats achieved good results, but there may also be a large number of “dispersed votes”, since the lists that reached below the 3 percent electoral threshold got support from close to one in eight voters. This is above 12 percent of the votes, but a couple of these parties are very close to passing the threshold so their status will not be known before the official results are in. This may last for another 15 days due to possible repeat election at some polling stations.
According to the preliminary election results, the mandate to form a new government will be given to the Europe Now Movement, a party/movement formed less than a year ago and led by members of the former expert government of Zdravko Krivokapić. They had a successful run with slogans of higher minimum wage (from 450 to 700 euros), higher pensions (from 250 to 450 euros), the average salary of 1,000 euros and shorter workday, from eight to seven hours. They announced continuity in the foreign policy (EU integration, NATO...), but their stance on internal issues that polarise Montenegro, such as civic nation vs. nation state, role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in political life, the Open Balkans Initiative...) is a big unknown.
A natural course would be to see the recently elected President of Montenegro Jakov Milatović, otherwise Vice President of PES, entrust the mandate to form a government to the list leader and party president Milojko Spajić, but that is still uncertain.
Spajić is still battling the issue of dual Serbian-Montenegrin citizenship, which prevented him from running as a candidate in the April presidential elections at the last minute. Disagreements and friction between the two PES founders became evident thereafter.
In the days before the elections, Spajić had a lot on his plate, after being accused by the outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazović of business and private contacts with a South Korean Do Kwon, the so-called “cryptocurrency king”, who had been arrested in Montenegro on an Interpol warrant for alleged fraud of over 40 billion US dollars. Abazović alleged, based on the letter sent to him by Do Kwon from detention, that Kwon was one of the illegal financiers of PES and under international warrant as an influential member of the international crypto community.
PES has denied any illegal action, but Spajić did not dispute having business contacts with Do Kwon and placed these contacts in a completely different context. Statements from the Prosecution are expected and may come in the following days or weeks, which could affect Spajić receiving the mandate to form a new government, especially since his election result as the leader of the PES electoral list failed to achieve the expected support (surveys said 30+ percent) compared with the result of the PES vice president in the presidential elections last spring (29 percent in the first round, over 60 in the second).
Milatović's support to Spajić no longer seems assured, and the gap may even expand when it comes time to select coalition partners in support of the government led by parliamentary freshmen, the PES.
It seems certain that PES will not enter into a coalition with the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which came second in Sunday's elections (23 percent of the votes). The question is – whom will it form a coalition with then?
During the election campaign, Milatović advocated for a pre-election coalition with the so-called victors of August 30, but remained in the minority, and the search for partners was left for after the elections. After the victory was made official, Milojko Spajić repeated that no coalition would be possible with DPS and the Civic Movement URA (Dritan Abazović), citing last week's conflict and the Do Kwon affair, and institutional abuses during URA’s campaign.
When asked whether post-election cooperation with the New Serb Democracy (NSD) coalition (Andrija Mandić) and Democratic People's Party (DNP) (Milan Knežević) is acceptable to PES, Spajić replied: “The morning is wiser than the evening”, and added “If anyone is on the complete opposite side of the NSD and DNP - it's me. That answer is clear. Program principles are the most important and we have to see who agrees with them. Let’s see who wants to implement the Europe Now 2 program and see Montenegro join the EU.”
We have yet to see whether this is also a principled position within his party.
The NSD and DNP coalition ran under the motto “For the Future of Montenegro” (ZBCG) and came in third, winning 15 percent of the votes, primarily against the backdrop of national pro-Serbian politics (the only large list that did not throw around economic and social promises in the campaign). They said that there cannot be a stable government without them and confirmed their (pro-Vučić) political positions. “We are ready to put aside all wedge issues (recognition of Kosovo, sanctions against Russia, state symbols, certain provisions of the Constitution of Montenegro…), but will not be retrained by anyone”, said the list leader Milan Knežević, adding that “come tomorrow, I will still be a Serb who speaks the Serbian language and attends Serbian Orthodox Church”.
Spajić could, in theory, form the government without DPS, GP URA and ZBCG. It would be a bare majority and would require support from Democratic Montenegro (which ran in coalition with GP URA and won 13 percent of the votes), which does not seem too controversial at the moment.
The Democrats and URA made a pre-election agreement allowing independent negotiation and formation of post-election coalitions. That wouldn't be the first time they have broken up the partnership. The Democrats, led by Aleksa Bečić organised protests and ousted the government of Prime Minister Dritan Abazović last August, during which they exchanged accusations unfit for decent ears.
If none of the parties teetering around the threshold cross over, PES can have a majority in parliament together with the Democrats, and national parties of Bosniaks (close to seven percent of the votes), Albanians (three guaranteed mandates) and Croats (one guaranteed mandate with 0.3 percent of the vote) with 41 to 42 MPs (out of 81).
However, if at least one of the three parties go over the threshold - the SNP-DEMOS coalition, the Coalition gathered around the former Minister of Justice Vladimir Leposavić (removed from office for denying the Srebrenica genocide) or the SDP, the calculation gets complicated, since none of them are overly fond of PES. But it may be their opportunity to take positions in the government.
There are rumours, and Milan Knežević has been talking about it openly, that there is a possibility of PES forming a government with minority support from the DPS. That would probably exclude the Democrats from the mix (minorities would remain a part of that majority), but the biggest problem is the assumption (still only an assumption) that such an idea would not receive support in the future caucus of the coalition gathered around PES.
Mathematically, the DPS and the ZBCG coalition could create the necessary majority, with the help of minority parties, but that is not realistic under the current political circumstances.
There are many combinations at play, and almost none of them guarantee a stable and clearly profiled government that will have the strength to implement what is necessary and what has been promised, and last four years.
Although the post-election calculus will only be possible only after the final and official announcement of the election results, it seems quite possible that the mandate of the technical government of Dritan Abazović will be extended at least until September (remember, a vote of no confidence in the cabinet of Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic was passed last August). The lowest ever voter turnout reflects discontent with this state of affairs.
PS. If the SDP does not pass the threshold, the Bosniak Party will be the only parliamentary force that entered parliament by running independently, without guaranteed seats.
PPS. This is the first time that national parties won all the seats reserved for minorities, the seats which the so-called civic parties also counted on.
 The third member of the former Democratic Front, Movement for Change (Nebojša Medojević), ran independently and failed to reach the threshold.