A presidential election was held in Montenegro on April 7, 2013. The President has largely symbolic and ceremonial powers, with true political power in the hands of the Prime Minister. The President is elected by popular vote to a five year term, renewable once.
Montenegro won independence from Serbia in 2006, following a referendum in which over 55% of voters voted in favour of separation (the threshold for independence to pass had been 55% of the votes, rather than the usual 50%+1). Since 1991, Montenegrin politics have been dominated by the figure of Milo Đukanović, the incumbent Prime Minister, who has served various stints as either Prime Minister or President. In 1989, as part of the “anti-bureaucratic revolution” in Serbia, Đukanović was one of three young communist apparatchiks, closely allied to Slobodan Milošević, who toppled the old guard and seized control of the local communist branch. Đukanović became Prime Minister in 1991, a close ally of President Momir Bulatović and Milošević. The Montenegrin leadership actively supported Serbia during the Balkan wars and partook in the armed conflict in Croatia alongside Milošević’s forces. Under Đukanović and Bulatović, the local communist party became the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).
However, with Serbia (and Montenegro)’s increasing isolation from the rest of the world in 1996-1997, Đukanović broke with Bulatović and Milošević. Ahead of the 1997 presidential election, Đukanović wrestled control of the DPS away from Bulatović and effectively purged Bulatović’s supporters from the DPS, leading Bulatović to form a new party, the Socialist People’s Party (SNP). In that year’s presidential election, Đukanović narrowly defeated Bulatović in a disputed runoff. Having squeezed Bulatović out of power, Đukanović made his mark on the country. He distanced himself from Milošević’s regime and aligned with the West, while remaining notionally loyal to the idea of Yugoslavia.
By 2001-2002, Đukanović started openly pushing for independence. The country had been an independent kingdom until it was forcibly annexed by the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918. Montenegrin national identity and its status as an ethnic group and language separate from Serbian is a touchy topic, given that a lot of Serbs consider Montenegrins as ethnic Serbs.
Đukanović resigned the presidency to become Prime Minister again in 2002. His pro-independence coalition won the 2002 legislative elections over the anti-independence moderate coalition, led by the SNS (Bulatović lost the party’s leadership in 2001 following Milošević’s ouster, and formed his own party). As Prime Minister, Đukanović emerged as a forceful advocate of Montenegrin independence, which was finally achieved in May 2006. He resigned as Prime Minister in November 2006, and was succeeded by Željko Šturanović. Two months before, Đukanović’s coalition emerged victorious in the first legislative elections held following independence.
Šturanović stepped down in 2008, ushering in Đukanović’s return to the office of Prime Minister. His government was handily reelected in 2009, winning over 50% of the vote. Đukanović has emerged as a strong proponent of European integration, and his government’s policies have largely revolved around EU membership. Montenegro became a candidate country in December 2010, and negotiations with the EU began in 2012. After the country became a candidate for EU membership, he stepped down as Prime Minister and was replaced by his close ally, finance minister Igor Lukšić. The DPS coalition was reelected with a reduced majority in October 2012, and Đukanović returned as Prime Minister.
Filip Vujanović, a member of the DPS and a close ally of Milo Đukanović, has been President since 2003. He served as Acting President after Đukanović resigned the presidency in 2002, and won his first full term in his own right in 2003 (technically, in 2002, but the 2002 presidential election was repeated twice because of a turnout rule which was finally abolished by the time of the third election in May 2003). He was reelected following independence in 2008, winning 51.9% of the vote in the first round against Andrija Mandić, the leader of the anti-independence New Serb Democracy (NOVA).
Vujanović’s candidacy for what would be a third term in office caused controversy and created friction between the DPS and its junior parter, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapić. The SDP and the opposition parties claimed that Vujanović was constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office, arguing that the constitution does not make a clear distinction between terms completed before and after independence. Former Serbian President Boris Tadić, who unsuccessfully sought a third term in office in 2012, had faced a similar issue given that the Serbian constitution limits the President to two terms, but Serbian law apparently makes a distinction between presidential terms completed prior to 2006, when Serbia was a federal unit rather than a sovereign state. The Montenegrin Constitutional Court ultimately ruled in favour of Vujanović’s candidacy, arguing that the first three years of his first term did not count because Montenegro was a federal unit of Serbia and Montenegro rather than a sovereign state.
This was the most disputed election in Montenegro in years. President Filip Vujanović, backed only by the DPS (the smaller SDP, formerly a loyal ally, boycotted the vote), faced only a single opponent – Miodrag Lekić, endorsed by the centre-right Democratic Front (DF). Miodrag Lekić is a former ambassador and served as foreign minister in the 1990s. He is backed by the Democratic Front, an opposition coalition which won 22.8% in the 2012 legislative elections. It is made up of Andrija Mandić’s right-wing New Serb Democracy (NOVA) and Nebojša Medojević’s liberal Movement for Changes (PZP). The Socialist People’s Party (SNP), which has been controlled by a pro-European majority led by Srđan Milić since 2006 (Bulatović left the SNP in 2001), endorsed Lekić as well, although it is not a member of the DF. The disparate and unwieldy opposition to the DPS has been progressively coalescing in the hope of forming a credible alternative to the DPS, which had benefited from the opposition’s divisions for years.
The campaign was rather bitter and negative. The incumbent President said that Lekić was weak on the issue of Montenegrin sovereignty and could not be counted on to defend the country’s sovereignty. The pro/anti-independence battles which played out in the 2006 referendum still divides Montenegrin politics, with many of the smaller opposition parties – including NOVA and the SNP – having opposed independence in the 2006 referendum. Vujanović, an ally of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, pledged to ‘intensify’ Montenegro’s bid to join the European Union (talks started in 2012). In contrast, the opposition largely focused their fire on corruption and abuse of power. The opposition has long criticized the ruling party as an autocratic and corrupt clique, which has monopolized political power and playing to the interests of a corrupt elite. Indeed, DPS governments are often suspected of corruption and Đukanović himself was allegedly involved in tobacco smuggling in the 1990s.
The Montenegrin economy had been performing very strongly immediately after independence, buoyed by an influx of foreign investment and the rapid expansion of sectors such as tourism. However, it too suffered from the global recession in 2009 and it has been in an economic slump again since 2012, when the country’s economy grew by only 0.2%. The country also has a fairly substantial budgetary deficit, which has forced the government to adopt unpopular measures. Earlier this year, unions demonstrated against the decision to raise the income tax on monthly salaries over 400€ by 3%.
Turnout was 63.9%.
Filip Vujanović (DPS) 51.21%
Miodrag Lekić (Ind, supported by DF and SNP) 48.79%
Both candidates claimed victory on April 7, with Vujanović claiming he won with 51.2% while Lekić claimed that he won with 50.5%. On April 8, the results published by the electoral commission were nearly identical to the DPS’ numbers. Lekić claims that his campaign has proof that the result was tampered with somewhat, claiming that about 4% of ballots were invalid and asking for a recount of the votes. He said that Vujanović declaring victory constituted a de facto coup d’état. Nonetheless, this disputed result does not seem to be the starting point for mass protests of the kinds we have come to expect following closely contested elections ending in a disputed result. After all, the presidency is fairly symbolic and it does not detain significant political powers.
What is more interesting, rather, is how close this election turned out to be. The DPS has won ever presidential and parliamentary election by huge margins in the last ten years, over a divided opposition which never managed to get its act together after Đukanović got the upper hand in Montenegrin politics. The DPS, which has grown fairly smug and overconfident of its chances with all these years in government without a credible alternative, expected this election to be yet another cakewalk for them. It wasn’t – instead, the election was very close. Could this indicate that the DPS is finally beginning to suffer the toll of over ten years in government and the aura associated with being the standard bearer of Montenegrin statehood in 2006 starting to wear off? The economic slump, a change from the boom years following independence, and the government being compelled to take unpopular measures, might have hurt the government’s standing. Is this an indication that with the opposition, more or less, showing a semblance of unity, Montenegrin politics will become more open-ended?
The map is fairly interesting. Although it is clear that the pro/anti-independence divide from 2006 is still visible and very much alive in contemporary Montenegrin politics, the contours of the 2006 referendum are not very visible on the map at this point. Traditionally, the opposition parties – which had, with the exception of the PZP and some smaller parties, openly opposed independence – had their support concentrated in the north and around the Bay of Kotor (Herceg Novi), where most of the country’s Serbian population (about 29% of the country’s population) lives. This divide is now only partially visible. Yes, Lekić won 71.9% in Plužine municipality, which is 65% Serbian; but Vujanović won 62.5% in Andrijevica, which is 62% Serbian. Lekić also performed well in central Montenegro, where ethnic Montenegrins make up a majority. Vujanović won 56.1%, the Montenegrin cultural heartland and a DPS stronghold, but Lekić narrowly won in Podgorica – the capital, Bar and Nikšić. Unsurprisingly, Vujanović won by huge margins in the municipalities with Bosniak or Albanian majorities: 72% in Ulcinj (71% Albanian), 74.8% in Plav (52% Bosniak) and 84.3% in Rožaje (84% Bosniak).
This election, despite its limited importance, might signal the beginning of a new era in Montenegrin politics – one less thoroughly dominated by the DPS.