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

Montenegro's Out-of-Step Opposition

Disappointment with Milo Djukanovic may be rising, but the old opposition parties are not benefiting much.
By Nedjeljko Rudovic

Montenegro’s opposition is failing to make political capital out of growing public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s government, analysts say.

A series of actions mounted by opposition parteis, from regular public protests in Podgorica to a several-month-long boycott of parliament, have failed either to dent the government’s confidence, or to bring the early parliamentary elections they demand any closer.

At the same time, the opposition parties have engaged in a damaging internal struggle. Fresh protests over the poor economy and “the criminalisation of the state” were cancelled last week after leaders failed to agree how many places each party will get on the list of opposition candidates for the next poll.

A June survey by the Podgorica Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, CEDEM, said 36 per cent of those polled had expressed deep dissatisfaction with the government.

At the same time, CEDEM director Professor Srdjan Darmanovic, made the point that with 27 per cent support, the ruling coalition - Djukanovic’s Democratic Socialist Party, DPS, and the smaller Social Democratic Party, SDP - still remained ahead of the united opposition, on about 25 per cent.

Veselin Pavicevic, an analyst at CEDEM, said the opposition had failed to present itself as a democratic alternative because of the way it presented itself in public.

“They publicly promote things that no democratic alternative or healthy political infrastructure can be based on,” he told IWPR. “They imbue everything with suspicion and distrust and do not respect any of our institutions - I am referring here to their boycott of parliament.”

Western officials add that the opposition put forward unrealistic demands by calling for Djukanovic’s resignation as prime minister when he enjoyed an absolute majority in the republic’s parliament.

“The opposition cannot threaten the stability of the ruling coalition and force it to call early elections,” one Western official, who asked not to be identified, told IWPR. “With such behaviour they’re shooting themselves in the foot. They are not offering anything constructive – just criticism. They have not shown enough flexibility.”

A straw poll on the streets of Podgorica reinforces the impression that the opposition have failed to capture the public mood of disappointment.

“They all used to be in power and had the same way of thinking,” Marko, a clerk, said of the opposition parties. “They are all the same.”

“What are their concrete solutions for a better life of the citizens?” Jadranka, a pensioner, queried. “Would they increase my pension?”

Apart from a certain policy deficit, a major problem facing the opposition is its diverse character.

Four parties back continued ties with Serbia in the state union, while the Liberal Alliance, LS, of Miodrag Zivkovic, supports independence for the tiny republic. The pro-union parties are Andrija Mandic’s Serbian People's Party, SNS, Bozidar Bojovic’s Democratic Serbian Party, DSS, Predrag Bulatovic’s Socialist People's Party, SNP, and Dragan Soc’s People’s Party, NS.

For two months, all of them have joined once-weekly protests in Podgorica, demanding early general elections and a new government in the interim.

The protests began after the Liberal Alliance leader went on trial in May in a libel case filed by Djukanovic.

The opposition boycott of parliament started last June, after live televised broadcasts of the sessions were suspended.

Opposition leaders walked out of the chamber, insisting the government had put pressure on the Montenegro Broadcasting Council to stop the broadcasts. They argued that this damaged their interests, as the public had lost the most important channel for hearing criticism of government policies.

At the same time, the boycott of parliament virtually removed the Montenegrin opposition from the public gaze, contributing to their fall in the ratings.

The furore over the broadcasts was one of several campaigns that have failed to undermine government confidence, in spite of surveys underlining a growing sense of discontent with their policies.

The crowds attending opposition rallies have been far sparser than expected. On average, only about 3,000 people took part in each one, leaving Djukanovic unfazed.

The opposition malaise has been compounded by the infighting between the parties for the lead position in the opposition camp.

Bulatovic’s SNP, formerly allied to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, remains the biggest in the bloc. But the three other pro-Serbian parties – the SNS, DSS and NS –are all hustling for the SNP’s voters.

SNP officials have complained publicly that the smaller parties are poaching their voters, while the other party leaders have made it clear they regard themselves as the true representatives of the pro-union Serbs in Montenegro.

The internecine struggle came to a head last week when - after days of closed talks – SNS leader Mandic announced that the opposition had failed to reach a deal how the planned joint electoral list would be shared out between the parties.

Mandic added that it was not clear early parliamentary elections would even take place, given the ruling parties’ stable majority in parliament.

NS chief Dragan Soc and LS leader Zivkovic angrily accused Mandic of “unserious” conduct. Soc even cited the summer heatwave and the European football championship as reasons for the fall-off in opposition rallies.

The infighting has played into the hands of both the government and a new political force, the Group for Changes, a former non-government organisation that has said it will contest the next elections as a party and already enjoys the support of about 10 per cent of voters.

Dragan Soc describes the Group for Changes as “a typical one-man band with no coherent programme or infrastructure”. He told IWPR, “They are flourishing only thanks to their criticism of certain government actions and their backing from the media, including the pro-government media.”

Soc claimed they had no new policies to offer, saying, “They have said nothing that the opposition had not said in public before.” He added that the real test would come in the next elections.

But according to Srdjan Darmanovic of CEDEM, the arrival of this new political player will aid the government, if only by putting the hope of a parliamentary majority well beyond the opposition’s reach.

Predrag Sekulic, spokesman for the ruling DPS, said the government scorned what he called the opposition’s classic “Balkan” obstructionist tactics.

“They are behaving in a Balkan, not a European way, as they just can’t get used to the fact that the [government’s] term of office is four years,” he said.

“They are not a constructive opposition, offering concrete solutions for the existing problems,” he added. “They have made so many promises, and now they are trying to regain voters’ confidence by blaming the authorities for everything.”

Nedjeljko Rudovic is a journalist with the Podgorica daily Vijesti.