Posted August 28, 2020 9:28 am by

Montenegro votes with identity, economy at the fore

Podgorica, Montenegro, Aug 28 – Montenegro’s pro-West leader is fighting to extend his party’s 30-year grip on the EU candidate country on Sunday in polls dominated by identity debates and anxiety over a pandemic-hit economy.

The party of President Milo Djukanovic is one of the most indestructible political forces in the Balkans, having led Montenegro from the end of communism in the 1990s to independence from Serbia in 2006, and now to the doorstep of the European Union.

But, accused by rivals of spinning a web of clientelism and corruption, the president’s camp could struggle to form a majority after Sunday’s race.

The governing coalition currently holds a narrow edge — 42 of 81 seats in parliament — and the upcoming poll is expected to be even “tighter” than previous elections, said Milos Besic, an analyst in Podgorica.

The vote comes in a year of political turmoil, with large protests against Djukanovic over a religion law that flared tensions around national identity, still haunting Montenegro 14 years after it split from Serbia.

“Apart from a health crisis due to coronavirus, the thing that will mark the following elections is a deepening of divisions within Montenegro society,” Besic told AFP.

– Religious row –

On one side of the divide is Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), who pitch themselves as protectors of Montenegrin nationhood and the state’s pro-West alignment.

While the 58-year-old president has won plaudits for putting Montenegro on the EU path, critics accuse him of running the country like a personal fiefdom, enriching himself and allies while many ordinary people struggle to make ends meet.

Since the last parliamentary election in 2016, cracks in his rule have started to emerge, with two protest movements taking hold in the small Adriatic nation of 620,000.

The first erupted last year over a corruption scandal, when a high-profile tycoon said he had been giving kickbacks to the DPS for years.

US-based Freedom House this year downgraded Montenegro from a democracy to a “hybrid regime”, citing “years of increasing state capture, abuse of power and strongman tactics” under Djukanovic.

A law that could hand Montenegro the ownership of monasteries run by the Belgrade-based Serbian Orthodox Church sparked protests this year © AFP / Savo PRELEVIC

The start of 2020 brought new protest marches over a controversial law that could hand Montenegro the ownership of monasteries run by the Belgrade-based Serbian Orthodox Church.

It outraged followers of the Church — the country’s main religious body — and Read More…Montenegro votes with identity, economy at the fore  Montenegro votes with identity, economy at the fore  Montenegro votes with identity, economy at the fore  Montenegro votes with identity, economy at the fore