Montenegrin political stalwart Milo Đukanović, effectively Montenegro’s leader for the past 25 years and the current prime minister, declared victory after winning the plurality of votes (41%) in the October 16 elections. In comparison, the main opposition candidate, Andrija Mandić, received only 20.6% of the vote. However, the percentage is short of the majority Đukanović wanted, and the election itself has been tumultuous affair to say the least.
In addition to the two main parties, Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and Mandić’s Democratic Front (DF), there were also a host of other competitors in the election, 17 in total, including candidates from ethnic Bosniak, Albanian, and Croatian parties, each securing at least one seat in the 81-seat parliament.
The opposition forces were confident that they could mount a serious challenge against Đukanović for the first time, but their campaign ended in disappointment. If his traditional smaller party allies side with him, Đukanović will be able to create a coalition government with a majority 43 seats.
In the lead up to the election, Đukanović presented the vote as one between the West and becoming a “Russian colony.” Đukanović is seen as a pro-Western leader who has led Montenegro towards the west since independence in 2006. He listed ratifying NATO membership and completing EU accession talks as chief goals of his party. Meanwhile Mandić wanted tor reaffirm ties with Montenegro’s traditional allies, Russia and Serbia.
The issue of NATO membership is especially divisive, as NATO bombed Montenegro, as part of rump-Yugoslavia, in 1999 to stop the ethnic genocide in Kosovo, but some also see NATO as a path to greater prosperity for the small country while fearing growing Russian influence. In addition, Đukanović accuses Democratic Front and the host of other opposition parties of receiving funds from Moscow, while they accuse him of corruption. Both claims are denied by the accused.
Just hours before voting started, authorities arrested 20 Serbian paramilitaries, including the former special forces commander of Serbia, Bratislav Dikić, whom the government claims were trying to kidnap Đukanović and disrupt the election. Mandić found the timing of these arrests too convenient, and speculated that they must be propaganda.
The elections have been criticized as unfair by the opposition. In addition to the arrest of the Serbian paramilitaries, which overshadowed the elections, there were such voting irregularities as halts in voting due to non-functioning machines and supposed vote buying. Popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber were blocked by officials on Sunday, leading to further allegations of tampering with the election. The Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS) filed criminal complaints over the violations.
Despite government fears, violence did not break out after the election results started to appear. The controversy surrounding Sunday’s elections will likely reignite critiques against Đukanović regarding election fraud, which were one of the root problems earlier this year. Some have seen the election as a blow to Đukanović’s rule, but it is likely that he will be able to create a coalition in the coming days. Whether he will be able to answer the questions surrounding the election and mend the rifts in Montenegro remains to be seen.