The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) held a roundtable discussion entitled “Quo vadis? Parliamentary elections in Montenegro” on 14 September 2020. The event was moderated by Anna Orosz, IFAT Research Fellow and Program Manager (Post-Soviet Region and the Balkans), and panellists were Dr. Tibor Ördögh, Senior Lecturer at the National University of Public Service and Ferenc Németh, IFAT Research Fellow.
In the shadow of the second wave of the coronavirus, the parliamentary elections – held on 30 August 2020 – created a new political situation in Montenegro. The biggest outcome of the elections is that after nearly 30 years, the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro lost its necessary majority to the three coalitions (For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and the In Black and White coalitions) formed by opposition parties. The panellists highlighted that numerous political factors contributed to this change: besides the protests triggered by new Law on Religious Freedom, debates on the management of the pandemic have also divided the public. Therefore, the discussion put the emphasis on issues that would test the coalition and would impact the functionality of the government.
Regarding the formation of the government, Ferenc Németh pointed out that all coalition partners seemed open for cooperating with minority parties (Albanian and Bosniak representatives), however, the appointment of the Prime Minister can easily turn into a bone of contention. Consequently, the rifts in identity politics can come to the front as well.
The biggest policy challenges of the expert government will have their roots in foreign policy related issues. Namely, significant differences can be detected along the lines of NATO membership, EU integration, the recognition of Kosovo as well as ties towards Serbia and Russia. The agreement signed by the parties on 8 September represents a major spirit of compromise that can have a positive effect on the current relations with the European Union (EU).
Speaking about the country’s international orientation, Dr. Tibor Ördögh claimed that although the For the Future of Montenegro formation is eurosceptic and hostile towards NATO, the other coalition partners represent a more pro-European direction. At the same time, overtaking the continuation of the Euro-Atlantic integration in the agreement can be deemed as a forward-looking result. In addition, participants also underpinned that as a member of the military alliance, Montenegro enjoys several (economic and political) benefits that makes the question of leaving the NATO only rhetorical.
Among the focal points of the discussion, it was important to mention the international and regional aspects of the elections too. Panellists also agree that the foreign relations of Montenegro with neighbouring countries (especially with Serbia, Kosovo and Albania) would not change significantly. For the matter of European integration, the EU expects that the prospective government would pursue implementing the reforms needed for membership, including the economic and rule of law-related fields. Regarding the latter, the ambitions of the members of the governing coalition can be seen as a particularly positive step in the eyes of the EU.
The economic downturn caused by the pandemic, however, might have remarkable consequences. In case of an economic recession, political instability might arise if only one of the coalition partners refuses to accept the proposed legislation. In the upcoming period, the capabilities of the economic minister as well as the economic policies of the government will play a key role in safeguarding the public support.
The new coalition government needs to tackle not only the challenges concerning its cohesion but several other factors that might negatively affect the country’s economic and political stability, and can easily undermine the dubious parliamentary majority.
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