After the 2016 parliamentary elections, opposition has more MPs in the Parliament of Montenegro than ever before in the modern history of Montenegro. Distribution of votes is such that opposition’s seat share is closer to its vote share (least dispersed votes) than ever before. It is now supported by a significantly more balanced identity structure of voters. The biggest issues dividing opposition voters are left behind.
Political trends underline increasingly present possibility that opposition parties in the Parliament of Montenegro have 42 MPs. An open question is: Will this happen at the next parliamentary elections or will this chance be lost? To a large extent, this depends on the good political will and readiness of opposition leaders and management to take on the responsibility and risk of exercising power, on the ability to find the smallest common denominator of the opposition through dialogue and compromise instead of insisting on differences. Also, the response depends on the readiness to build a pre-election and post-election political compromise, on the political maturity of all to accept the decisions Montenegro made in 2006 and 2017.
Boycott of the parliament was a legitimate response to manipulations during the election day, but it could not deliver results without accompanying political strategy and action. By the end of 2017 and early 2018, the DPS was welcoming the return of the DF to parliament, the party it, at the same time, accuses of attempting a coup and high treason, while the rest of opposition could not agree on what, how and with whom to do. Entire 2017 has been wasted in already seen futile quarrels of opposition parties, with the result of shift of votes from one opposition block to another, without much damage to the DPS. Sometimes it seems that, to opposition parties, winning over opposition is more important than winning over the regime. As long as this continues, balance of power between the government and opposition will remain unchanged.
The general demand of the opposition for fair elections is fruitless. History shows – no major opposition party in 27 years of multiparty system has boycotted parliamentary elections. Knowing that opposition has no courage for a united boycott of the unfair elections, the DPS is refusing dialogue on fair elections, and prolonging processes, thus breaking already weak unity of the opposition and presenting it with a fait accompli.
While in the opposition they do not know what, how and with whom, DPS does its job. It skilfully stirs up ideological, political and other differences, spreads new fears of foreign and internal enemies, opposition, NGOs, independent media. Since mid-2017, in line with the key issues identified by citizens (unemployment, low wages/pensions, crime), the Government (the DPS) runs a pre-election campaign on “fighting crime” through raids of objects and suspicious persons, followed by media coverage with video footage and propaganda reports of pro-government media. The DPS is running a quiet action for pacifying independent media and NGOs, and an open action to take over the public broadcaster RTCG. All other levers of electoral technology, political and economic resources, are still entirely theirs.
The opposition must relieve itself of the burden of non-transparent post-election policy. The voters have the right to know what kind of government they vote, instead of the “necessarily unclear concept” long used at the expense of the opposition. The international community wonders what kind of government and what kind of politics a plethora of opposition parties can produce once it comes in power.
Opposition parties, especially pro-independence and civic ones, are faced with the question “Who will you join in a coalition after the elections?” with the goal of depriving them of the logical answer “With every other opposition party!” If the answer to this question really is what the DPS suggests to civic opposition and Democrats – “you can go with everyone but the DF”, then the change of government in Montenegro is impossible. Such a conclusion is reached following election mathematics that shows that in the winning scenario in which the opposition has 42 MPs, the share of DF, according to election results and public opinion polls, must be at least 12 seats. Hence, everybody saying he/she wants to change the government but does not count on the DF, in essence, and by the objective consequences of his/her attitude, works against the change of regime.
The thesis that Montenegro, in year 2020, is not prepared to form a government in which a political group that (largely) opposed the independence and NATO membership would participate, fourteen years after the independence and three years after joining NATO, puts into question democratic principle of the cnage of regime and the possibility of all legal political contestants to participate in the government. In this way, the DPS is privileged, whose call to all opposition parties is considered legitimate and welcome, but at the same time a potential call from the opposition to form a coalition with the DF is considered heresy. Such a thesis is identical to the argument of the Positive Montenegro from the time when it supported the government of Milo Đukanović in the parliament, with the difference that in 2020 this approach would be much less credible. Especially given that in the society, in the opposition, and notably in the overall political spectrum, the overwhelming majority are those who indisputably accept the state of Montenegro, and consider NATO membership a given fact.
As follows, the framework for political compromise is clear – Montenegro is an independent state and a NATO member state. Within this framework, clever policy is capable of finding a compromise, after all and in spite of all. It is time to remove a heavy load from the back of all opposition parties.
In general, the opposition must remain open to any potential reformist political current in the DPS and to authentic and relevant minority parties (the Bosniak Party and relevant Albanian parties). The overarching political platform for the opposition must be commitment to EU integrations, reforms that will speed up negotiations with the goal of becoming EU member as soon as possible. The opposition program must focus on economic and social issues.
The possible “road map” of the opposition includes solidarity, communication and multi-level cooperation (political and operational, national and local); non-aggression pact; combining methods of parliamentary and non-parliamentary fight; defining conditions for participating in parliamentary elections (regardless of forms and levels of pre-election association) which, apart from the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR, include “clearing” voters register; highest guarantees of impartiality of the institutions for the control of elections and of the public broadcaster; efficient oversight over discretionary budget costs, etc.
In the political part, of paramount importance are clever association of opposition parties, prevention of votes dispersal, pooling resources, forming and promoting coalitions – better sooner than later (the importance of time factor is best illustrated by the result of late and unexplained coalition Key in the 2016 Elections); support to the best-placed opposition candidate in the first round of presidential elections; a common strategy in both rounds compared to the DPS candidate. In the Podgorica elections, the opposition can try desirable models of cooperation through broadest joint pre-election activity, practicing a common mechanism for fighting electoral irregularities and other forms of achieving synergy.
It remains to be seen whether the opposition leaders will continue their ten-year-long game of Chinese whispers or assume historical role and responsibility of bringing Montenegro into a society of democratic states where the change of regime is possible. The greatest responsibility lies with the largest political groups, the Democrats and the Democratic Front. It is up to the Democrats to work with other civic parties, open for a broad coalition and lead the process, and up to the DF to help build bridges with the rest of the opposition and accept the described framework for discussion and agreement. The sooner the better. Time is running out.
Column is published in the Forum section of Vijesti portal