site.btaHigher Living Standards and EU Accession Dominate Campaign before Montenegro's General Elections
After the early parliamentary elections in Montenegro this coming Sunday, people here should have higher wages, pensions and more social benefits – or at least this is the future that the parties competing for their votes promise them.
For the first time in this election campaign, the campaign has been focused on the economy and the competition is who will promise higher wage growth, pensions, free services or tax cuts, Biliana Matiasevic, a journalist of Montenegro's daily Vijesti, told BTA.
She adds that over the past thirty years, election campaigns have usually centred on issues related to national self-determination, i.e. whether people identify themselves as Montenegrins or Serbs.
Montenegrin society has for years been divided into a pro-Montenegrin half, which insists on Montenegro's full independence, and a pro-Serb half, which favours close ties with Belgrade. This has a impacted the Montenegrin political scene and the actors on it.
In the ongoing election campaign, promises for accelerating EU accession have been a common denominator for the leading political formations. Montenegro was granted candidate country status in 2010, but the political crisis of the past year has hampered its progress on the path of European integration.
How the early elections came about
After the parliamentary elections in 2020, the pro-European party of now ex-president Milo Djukanovic, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), went in opposition for the first time in nearly thirty years. The governance of the country was put in the hands of the expert cabinet of Zdravko Krivokapić, supported by a multi-party coalition led by the pro-Serb and pro-Russian Democratic Front coalition and the URA Civic Movement of the current Prime Minister Dritan Abazović.
In February of last year, however, the parliament backed a no-confidence motion against Krivokapić and it was supported by the coalition partner URA.
In April 2022, Abazovic formed a minority government, which was again ousted by a no-confidence vote in August. The main reason for the vote was the controversial agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church regulating its relations with the state.
The parties in the Parliament failed to agree on a new prime minister. Then President Milo Đukanović dissolved the legislature just before the first round of the presidential vote in March and called early parliamentary elections.
Even then, analysts commented that the victory in the presidential elections would be largely indicative of the upcoming parliamentary vote. Djukanovic, a veteran politician who led Montenegro to independence in 2006 and brought the country into NATO in 2017, lost the ballot to political novice and former economy minister, Jacob Milatovic, a candidate of the Europe Now movement.
What the major political players promise
Montenegro's State Election Commission has confirmed the participation in the elections of 15 parties and coalitions that will compete for a total of 81 seats in the unicameral parliament of the country with a population of around 620,000.
This is in fact the third consecutive election in less than a year. There were local elections in the autumn and presidential elections in the spring. Europe Now did well in both elections, and the movement's candidate is the current Montenegrin President, Jakov Milatovic.
And now the political formation led by the former finance minister of Krivokapić's cabinet, Milojko Spajić, is expected to win the most support in the parliamentary elections. According to a May poll by CEDEM, the movement would receive the support of around 29% of voters. Europe Now is the name of the economic programme of Krivokapić's cabinet, which increased the minimum wage from EUR 222 to 450 at the expense of employers' contributions to compulsory health insurance. Behind this programme are Spajić and President Milatovic.
In the current election campaign, the focus of Europe Now's promises is once again on economic and social issues. Among the movement's electoral promises are large investment projects, an average wage of EUR 1,000, a minimum wage of EUR 700, a minimum pension of EUR 450, a reduction in the working day from 8 to 7 hours a day.
The average salary in Montenegro is around EUR 870 and the minimum pension is EUR 270. Inflation reached 13% last year and was 8.6% in April.
In recent days, however, allegations have surfaced about Spajić' connection to the "cryptocurrency kingpin" Do Kuon, a South Korean arrested in Montenegro, who is even alleged to have financed the Europe Now campaign. Spajić rejects the accusations, calling them an election hoax.
DPS came second in the CEDEM poll with around 24%. The party, whose list of candidates has been joined by several smaller ones, is led in the election race by 35-year-old MP Daniel Zivkovic, who is interim party chairman after Đukanović stepped down from the chairmanship. The electoral coalition plans a 50% increase in the gross income of citizens, a minimum pension of EUR 350 and the creation of a fund to build social housing. The money for these, will come from investments, DPS says.
Živković promises a "civil, multi-ethnic, sovereign, independent, anti-fascist and European Montenegro".
But the party, which run the country for about 30 years until 2020, bears the scars of past allegations of corruption and nepotism.
As a third possible parliamentary force, a coalition is taking shape between Prime Minister Abazovic's URA movement and Alexa Belic's Democrats. The poll gives them a total of 15.5% of the vote. The coalition promises subsidies for green projects and favourable conditions for the purchase of electric cars.
During the election campaign, Abazovic stressed that only with major infrastructure projects, GDP growth, doubling of tourism revenues and more electricity exports can wages, pensions and social benefits be further increased, Montenegrin media reported.
In the wake of the allegations against Spajic over links to the detained South Korean, Abazovic convened Montenegro's National Security Council this week.
According to a CEDEM poll taken between May 1 and 14, the pro-Russian and pro-Serb Democratic Front would win 13.2%. However, the political formation broke up and the New Serbian Democracy (NOVA) and the Democratic People's Party (DNP) are running in the elections together. The Movement for Change is running on its own ticket.
NOVA and DNP are promising a 13% wage increase and a 20% increase in pensions, as well as extra money for the annual leave.
The two parties are demanding a reversal of the recognition of Kosovo's independence, Montenegro's exit from NATO and lifting the sanctions against Russia.
In terms of foreign policy, the parties with the best chance of entering the Montenegrin parliament are promising to speed up the country's EU accession process.
According to the CEDEM poll, 76% of respondents support the country's EU membership, 14% do not, and 10% are undecided.
After the elections - coalition
What seems certain, according to polls and analysts, is that no party or coalition will have a majority in Parliament, which means that a coalition will have to be formed to run the country.
Prior to the "cryptocurrency king" scandal, a possible government of Europe Now, the Democrats and the URA civic movement, with some other minority parties looked like a possible scenario.
According to Biljana Matijević, most of the parties will not pass the electoral threshold to enter the legislature and some will even disappear from the political scene.
"Given the weakening of Milo Đukanović's DPS and the collapse of the pro-Serb Democratic Front coalition, I think that in the future there will be fewer nationalist parties and that the focus will continue to be on improving the living standards of citizens and Montenegro's EU accession," Matiješević said.
Economic analyst Vasilje Kostic told Radio Free Europe that the generous social promises made in the current election campaign may be difficult to implement.
Some programmes, one could say, are extremely bold, voluminous in their promises. It seems that their implementation is difficult to achieve or could cause serious shocks to Montenegro's finances, he notes.
Summing it all up, Biljana Matijević told BTA that people want new faces on the political scene and give them a chance to do something about improving the quality of life of Montenegrins, "who are fully aware that their living standards are not even close to the standards of most EU countries.