Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Djukanovic's Unexpected Victory

The opposition's negative campaigning and international pressure appear to have contributed to the pro-independence president's surprise poll triumph.
By Milka Tadic

President Milo Djukanovic's allies won an unexpected election landslide on October 20, which owed less to his pledges and political record than to public disenchantment and anger with the opposition and the international community.


According to official results released by the Republic Election Comission, his pro-independence Coalition for a European Montenegro, comprising his own Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, the People's Unity and the Civil Party would win an absolute majority in parliament, holding 39 out of the 75 seats.


Predrag Bulatovic's pro-Yugoslavia Coalition for Changes, comprising the Socialist People's Party, SNP, the Serb People's Party, SNS, and the People's Party stood to win only 30 seats. The pro-independence Montenegrin Liberal Alliance, LS, won four seats and the ethnic Albanians two seats.


In extraordinary local elections held only in Podgorica and Tivat, Djukanovic's alliance convincingly won in the capital and ran equal with the pro-Yugoslavia coalition in the coastal town. But as the Civil Party won four seats in the latter, the president's coalition will still be able to form the local administration there.


Although all pre-election opinion polls put Djukanovic's team in the lead, the scale of his triumph was unexpected - few believed he would be in a position to form a new administration independently.


The DPS-SDP government lost its parliamentary majority in the spring after the LS withdrew support in protest against the president's decision - under pressure from the European Union - to sign the Belgrade Agreement, which committed Montenegro to preserve a loose union with Serbia for a last three years and abandon its long-planned referendum on independence.


The opposition parties then joined forces and to the surprise of many, the independence supporting Liberals allied with Bulatovic's pro-Yugoslav bloc. Now controlling a majority in parliament, the opposition blocked Djukanovic coalition initiatives and significantly weakened the institutions he controlled. They soon altered the election legislation and took control of the state media that had been under the president's management for years.


In the meantime, Djukanovic's rule was also shaken by corruption scandals and accusations linking him to organised crime. During the election campaign, the opposition threatened to arrest a number of state officials, describing them as a mafia, once they came to power. Social problems and strikes also rattled the government. These developments did not seem to offer the president the prospect of victory.


So what lay behind his electoral triumph? Podgorica analysts now believe voters made Djukanovic their top choice for several reasons.


One was the negative tone of the opposition and still-fresh memories of its close ties with the Milosevic regime. The other was international pressure on Montenegro to establish closer ties with Serbia.


Many Liberals appear to have been disappointed with their new alliance and turned to Djukanovic. Finally, all those advocating independence seem to have decided the president may be able to talk the international community out of its intention to keep Serbia and Montenegro together.


Political analyst Srdjan Darmanovic says a number of LS members backed Djukanovic out of anger at their own party forming an alliance with pro-Yugoslav forces and backed Djukanovic. "Voters have harshly punished the Liberal Alliance for the policy the party pursued over the past few months by changing its political allies," he said.


The pro-Yugoslav parties, on the other hand, helped Djukanovic to victory with their hostile campaign. In last year's parliamentary elections, the president's coalition beat Bulatovic's team by barely 2 per cent. Now he leads by 10 per cent.


People's Party deputy leader Predrag Drecun admitted the opposition campaign was poor. "Instead of a platform we had a negative campaign," he said. "We threatened to arrest a large number of people and this scared people."


Political analyst Drasko Djuranovic said European pressure on Montenegro to maintain a union with Serbia played into the president's hands. This pressure, he said, did not relax after the EU envoy Javier Solana prompted Djukanovic to sign the Belgrade Agreement.


"On the contrary it got stronger because instead of the loose and temporary union envisaged by the agreement, Brussels then tried to revise it and talk Djukanovic into accepting a strong central state, in spite of the fact that most Montenegrins had opted for independence," he said.


This obviously irritated most pro-independence voters. Although Djukanovic managed to retain the euro as Montenegro's currency and preserve an independent tax and customs system when signing the union accord, explicit messages constantly arrived from Brussels saying that Podgorica and Belgrade must have a common market and currency. Montenegrins saw this as a revision of the Belgrade Agreement.


The media here claims the British ambassador in Belgrade, Charles Crawford, was the driving force behind efforts to revise of the accord. "Crawford directly worked on forming an alliance between the Liberals and the pro-Yugoslav parties to break the pro-independence authorities in Podgorica," a source close to the Montenegrin president told IWPR.


The British embassy in Belgrade has stoutly denied these claims. In an official statement, a spokesperson told IWPR, "The British government does not support any party in Montenegro.


"Like other EU member states, it wants to see an open and fair democratic process which leads to stability, reform and prosperity.


"Now that a government has been elected in Podgorica, [Britain] calls on the signatories of the Belgrade Agreement to finalise and rapidly implement the constitutional charter for the new union of Serbia and Montenegro," the statement concluded.


Speaking after the election results came in, Djukanovic said, "Our absolute victory will pave the way for a stable government over the next four years. Right after the elections, we will start work on forming a reformist and European government."


Djukanovic said the fact that a coalition comprising representatives of all ethnic groups had won in Montenegro constituted "a clear sign to the international community that, unlike in some other states in the region, the multi-ethnic option has won in Montenegro."


With his strong poll victory behind him, Djukanovic will now have a stronger hand in his negotiations with Belgrade and Brussels over the future Montenegrin-Serbian state. "The absolute victory of the pro-independence forces is a major step towards our own state," Djuranovic told IWPR.


Milka Tadic Mijovic is editor-in-chief of Monitor magazine from Podgorica


More IWPR's Global Voices