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What to expect from the new government in Montenegro: cosmetic or real change?

After the long-awaited shift of the ruling majority in Montenegro, the main dilemma which burdens the domestic and foreign community is whether the change of government was a goal in itself or we can expect a real change in this tiny Balkan country.

Very few expected that Milo Đukanović and his Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, would lose the last year’s parliamentary elections on August 30 and that they would no longer be part of the executive branch after more than thirty years. With all the huge and growing dissatisfaction, the months-long protests against the Law on Freedom of Religion, the conditions in which the elections were held were not, again, free and fair, which contributed to such an impression.

The ruling party, as confirmed by the OSCE/ODIHR, had a significantly better starting position in terms of institutional advantage and greater coverage in state-sponsored or state-linked media. However, for the first time, part of the opposition had strong support in the form of assistance from the Serbian Orthodox Church, SOC, which helped on the ground using some well-tried mechanisms, such as a door-to-door campaign. Some other factors contributed to this surprising outcome: the grouping of the opposition in three rows, which prevented the spillover of votes to the ruling party, as well as high overall (slightly exceeding 76%) and lower turnout of the diaspora due to the situation caused by the coronavirus.

Just as the defeat of the DPS surprised many, so it found the new ruling majority unprepared. Despite positive initial steps within which an agreement was signed on key principles of the new government’s work, including preserving the country’s foreign policy course, after the vote in parliament in December, the government does not appear to have a clear strategy.

In the first few weeks of the government’s mandate, the undertaken moves indicated hasty decision-making without a clear plan in order to cover the decisions made and eliminate its possible negative consequences. One of such decisions is the termination of state aid to the national airline company, which has so far been largely illegal, but also the announcement of the establishment of a new airline company, without satisfactory clarification of the next steps and how it will influence the economy.

The way of communication with the public showed the lack of PR strategy, but also the lack of coordination between line ministries. Some important laws have been amended, such as the aforementioned Law on Freedom of Religion and the Law on Civil Servants and State Employees, without prior consultations with the interested parties or public hearing.

Cohabitation is not working properly, and the polarization of society is not weakening. Some appointments in the Ministry of Defense or at the top of the National Security Agency have caused great controversy in the public, and especially the list circulating on social networks about the distribution of certain positions in public administration to parties in accordance with their election results, although most of them has to be opened to public competition as a mandatory recruitment procedure.

In addition to many confusing moves, it was clear from the beginning that the new government would not have an easy task, given the situation in the country and widespread corruption and organized crime, but also because of the composition of the new parliamentary majority since it is not stable and consists of parties of different political and program orientations.

Moreover, other branches, such as the judiciary, are not depoliticized and don’t have the same agenda as the government. To conclude: the initial steps of the new government do not encourage or give reason for optimism that in the coming period we will have a strong departure from nepotism and clientelism, but, hopefully, we should not doubt the determination to examine the abuses of the previous government.

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