Blog: 365 Days to Election

The split views held by the establishment, led by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), and the opposition on the environment for holding elections in Montenegro have caused a string of grave political crises which have had a devastating impact on the functioning of democracy, the work of the Parliament, the parliamentary oversight of the executive and the overall quality of governance in the country.

Though they have claimed for decades that the conditions for holding elections are unfair and challenged the results of all the parliamentary elections, the opposition parties lack a common position on the key challenges or an articulation of proposed solutions in the form of a common public document.

It seems, moreover, that the opposition parties are losing interest in changing the rules of the electoral game, while it is becoming less and less likely that major opposition parties will boycott the coming parliamentary election if the conditions remain unchanged.

The process of coming to an agreement concerning the key problems and solutions could rally the opposition parties around a common demand towards the parliamentary majority and the Government; subsequently, DPS would have to ensure adoption of the solutions that would secure the trust of all the stakeholders involved in the process. The time for dialogue and agreement is running out, with a little over a year remaining till the calling of the election for the Parliament of Montenegro in 2020.

Responsible opposition might accept the proposed forum for dialogue or propose an alternative one; still, wherever and however that dialogue takes place, the implication is that that opposition would, at the critical moment, take an active part in voting on the agreed decisions in the Parliament.

Absence of any common demands voiced by the opposition adds to the uncertainty of the political process, helps perpetuate the captured institutions, weakens the strength of democratic demands and prevents the dialogue on the electoral conditions from serving the purpose of essential and long-term system reforms, to the benefit of citizens and the public.

I do not believe in the supernatural powers of the concept of a caretaker government. The experience from 2016 were illustrative in that regard.

Still, a caretaker government that would be supported by the parliamentary majority and minority would be able to do more over a longer period of time; after a certain moment, though, it becomes purposeless, especially if it is not the result of a common endeavour of the opposition, does not include the most responsible politicians and endorses a number of legal and institutional constraints from 2016. Such caretaker government could not solve the problems that exceed its competences and require the involvement of the Parliament of Montenegro (amendments to some laws) and of some other institutions responsible for the implementation of legislation.

Agreeing to unchanged electoral conditions or cosmetic changes of the legislation on the election of MPs and political party finance would permanently strip the opposition parties of the right to object to the quality of the electoral process and the outcome of the coming election. Their potential retrospective objections, regardless of their merits, would no longer be accepted either by the international public or by the national opposition and democratic public.

It seems that friends’ assistance is required in the situation where we are unable to resolve these longstanding issues ourselves.

The European Union, as the international player enjoying the highest confidence of both sides of the political spectrum, might provide its own assessment of key governance issues that have direct and indirect impact on the electoral process, rather than rely solely on ex post OSCE ODIHR reports. While the monitoring missions have narrow focus and give soft recommendations, the environment for holding the election is a result of a much wider and longer process than just the campaign or the polling day. Fair and democratic elections are affected by numerous prolonged failures in improving the quality of governance, judiciary and freedom of expression.

The EU cannot achieve positive impact if it sticks to the business-as-usual approach (not only in Montenegro, but in other countries of the region that face similar political crises), as it is obvious that subsequent reactions, such as repeated requests in annual reports for the political and judicial epilogue of the “Recording” affair do not yield results. In this context, a mission like the one conducted by Mr. Reinhard Priebe in Macedonia in 2015 could provide clear and direct recommendations for a successful political dialogue. The European Commission 2018 Strategy foresees such expert missions; one such mission led by Mr. Priebe is currently ongoing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to the expert mission, the EU could foster dialogue, but also provide continuous expert support to the dialogue process. The failure of previous EU-led initiatives to establish dialogue must not become an obstacle to new efforts to that end.

Stevo Muk
President of the Managing Board

Blog was originally published on the Vijesti portal.

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