Montenegro: New Government, Myriad Challenges, Unique Opportunities

by Kenneth Morrison

The change of government through the mechanism of democratic elections in Montenegro – the only since Montenegro’s first multiparty elections in 1990 – came as something of a surprise, even for those who have long observed the country’s political landscape. The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), who have been in power for three decades, can only watch from the sidelines as negotiations for the formation of a new government move forward. In that regard, there have been numerous options under discussion, but the agreement reached on Wednesday between the ‘For the Future of Montenegro’, the ‘Peace is Our Nation’ and the ‘Black on White’ coalitions brings the formation of a government a step closer. Despite the recently signed agreement, however, those coalitions who comprise the new government-in-waiting will have to continue to find consensus, where possible, and be willing to make compromises to be able to function effectively. Whatever form it takes, the new government face unenviable political, social and economic challenges – but they are also with the opportunity not only to govern in a different way, but to endeavor to transform Montenegro’s political culture.

Throughout their long rule, the DPS became a ‘state party’ that dominated state institutions and had a significant influence, directly or indirectly, on the lives of Montenegro’s citizens.  This became more accentuated after Montenegro regained its independence in 2006, and the system of patronage, clientelism and cronyism that characterized DPS rule was one in which many Montenegrins who did not benefit from DPS political connections felt marginalized. This was felt most acutely by those who have long opposed the DPS.

Given this, there will be an obvious temptation among some within the government-in-waiting to take their share of the pie, which has been denied to them for so long and they may consider that they have earned as reward for their years of struggle. However, the new government must  define themselves – not merely in their rhetoric but in practice – in opposition to the systemic norms that they have so long railed against. They must also avoid the potential trap of lapsing into the established parameters of Montenegro’s political culture, or at least the norms that marked the thirty years of DPS rule.

‘Executive rotation’ will be rendered meaningless if the new government are seen to replicate the behaviors of the DPS when they have the ability to exercise power. They must demonstrate that they are a government for all citizens of Montenegro, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, and they must be transparent and accountable. Depoliticizing state institutions and combating endemic corruption and organized crime while maintaining the country’s path towards European Union integration will not be easy, and  they will do while the DPS will seek to provide strong opposition, capitalize on mistakes and exploit any potential splits. It is, to put it mildly, a difficult brief for a new government with little experience, but these challenges, though they may seem near insurmountable, must be tackled.

Professor Kenneth Morrison is a Professor of Modern Southeast European History at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK and was a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics on Southeast Europe from 2018-2019. He is the author of Nationalism, Identity and Statehood in Post-Yugoslav Montenegro, Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn: On the Frontline of Politics and War, Montenegro: A Modern History, and the co-author of The Sandžak: A History (Hurst & Co/Oxford University Press, 2013).