This past Sunday people of Montenegro voted in the latest parliamentary elections that were irregular indeed. The current prime minister and the leader of the rulling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Milo Djukanovic, is the longest rulling strongman in Europe and a «forgotten Balkan authocrat».
The multi-party election system was introduced in Montenegro 27 years ago. Since then, voters had tried to express their political preferences in elections that were plagued by various irregularities, ranging from voter intimidation and vote bying to stufifng ballot boxes to secure the victory of the ruling party.
This past Sunday people of Montenegro voted in the latest parliamentary elections that were irregular indeed. The current prime minister and the leader of the rulling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Milo Djukanovic, is the longest rulling strongman in Europe and a «forgotten Balkan authocrat», to borrow a syntagm from Daniel Hannan. On Sunday, he relied on tried and tested methods of election fraud, voter intimidation and blackmailing, discouraging potential opposition voters from casting their votes, fear mongering, threats of police violence, and bying votes.
Many of those who promissed to vote Djukanovic and his party had their multi-year unpaid power bills and taxes magically erased just before the election day. In addition, the DPS spent approximately 20 million euros on the so-called «monetary stimulation» of those voters who were deemed as «undecided». These methods have been considered by the DPS an integral part of a standard pre-election tactics.
It is worth noting three things here. First, these fraudulent tactics have been employed by Milo Djukanovic and his DPS in every election in the past 27 years. Second, during each election cycle the cost of such tactics has been covered from both state funds as well as slash-funds. Third, this keeps giving Djukanovic an average of 5 - 7% of safe votes, which transaltes to 5 – 6 seats in parliament.
This past Sunday, Djukanovic not only resorted to the same tactics but improved on his standard vote-rigging procedure because of the growing popularity of the oposition parties in general and the Democratic Front (DF) in particular (the PzP [= ACRE member party Movement for Changes] is a constituent of the DF). Due to high cost and demanding organizational and logistical issues the improvements in questions were not used since 2006 referendum on independence but the latest elections called for it. Over the past two months, therefore, the entire Montenegrin diplomatic network worked tirelessly on recruting ex-pats eligible to vote and willing to travel and vote Milo Djukanovic. As a result, between 6000 and 7000 Montenegrin residents of Luxemburg, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and the United States showed up at the voting booths on Sunday. Their votes gave 2 parliamentary seats to Djukanovic (approx. 2.5% of votes). We believe that in additon to covering their travel expenses in the amount of 3 to 4 million euros, the rulling party also paid those voters some 2 million euros in honorariums. We suspect that money came from a slush fund.
Furthermore, in order to shrink the number of the opposition party voters in the capital city of Podgorica ( 1/3 of entire population) who opt primarily for the DF/PzP, we estimate that Milo Djukanovic «temporarily purchased» some 10 thousand identity cards. While such number the ruling DPS 3 parliamentary seats, it also guranted that those DF/PzP voters couldnot cast their votes this past Sunday. We believe that such purchasing of identity cards had a proce tag of 2 million euros. It is also worth mentioning that the election monitors from the NGO sector had registered numerous irregularities and reported those to the authorities.
Despite securing anywhere between 12 and 15 parliamentary seats by resoring to the measures described above, Milo Djukanovic was still unsure of his election «victory» this past Sunday. That is why, after the election silence period started on Saturday, he ordered the Office of the Attorney General to call-in for questioning some 2.5 thousands activists and members of the DF/PzP. Police patrols were dispatched to their home addresses, arrested them, and in some cases searched their residences. They were brought to the local police stations and asked to give statements about their activities during the oposition protests of fall 2015! We believe this action constitutes voter intimidation and fear mongering as well as discouraging our activists from further party engagements.
Djukanovic, however, thought that an additional crisis was needed to secure his political survival. Such crisis, he estimated, had to be manufactured on the election day in order to scare the voters into submisison and criminalize his political oponents.
On Sunday afternoon, and while the election was under way, the citizens of Montenegro heard dramatic media reports about an alleged terrorist group that secretly entered Montenegro from Kosovo in order to stage a coup d'etat. This «terrorist group» allegedly aimed at creating incidents, attacking police, breaking into the parliament building, and even attempting to either arrest or kill Milo Djukanovic. The media reported that this group sneaked in at the invitation of «one of the oppositiion political subjects» and was allegedly led by a retired high ranking police officer from Serbia. The manner in which an alleged political host in Montenegrlo was described but never clealry identified pointed finger of blame at the DF/PzP. Releasing such media bombshell on Sunday afternoon had created the atmosphere of fear and a sense of a state of emergency in the entire country. It seemed as if the arrests of the leadership of the DF/PzP was just a matter of hours, if not minutes. We believe this manufactured crisis had a significant impact on the election results.
To make the matters worse, Djukanovic ordered that Viber and WhatsApp services in Montenegro be switched off on Sunday afternoon in order to avoid «unwanted communication between customers». This alone, is a potent illustration that Montenegro shares only a physical border with Croatia and the EU, and that its political borders are indeed with Belorussia and North Korea.
Despite his best efforts to rig the election on Sunday Djukanovic did not win 41 parliamentary seats that would gurantee him a majority. Together with one of its political sidekicks, the DPS won 38 seats, to the oposition's 39. Parties representing Bosniak and Albanian minorities won 4 parliamentary seats and would determine the make-up of the new government.
The entire oposition announced that it would not recognize the election results because the entire process occured in an atmoshopere of fear, fraud, and manipulation. It further stated that voting in such climate could not possibly produce results that constitute «a free expresison of the democratic will of the citizens of Montenegro» (Constitution of Montenegro).
The DSF/PzP called for the establishing of a transitional governemnt that would prepare new elections. We have stated clearly that we would support the establishing of any government that would exclude the DPS. Despite our proven political strength and electoral support, we went as far as to offer our support to a minority government without the DPS and even without the DF.
We are convinced that Milo Djukanovic and his DPS are the source of all problems in Montenegro and could not posisbly be a part of a solution. They are pushing the country ever deeper into a political, institutional, and parliamentary crisis. We are equaly convinced that congratulatory messages to Djukanovic about «the democratic character of the election process», which he received from Burssels (Johannes Hahn and Federica Mogherini) and the U.S. administration are messages of support to violence and election fraud that occured in Montenegro on Sunday, October 16, 2016. We believe that such corrupt politics of both administrations - one in Brussels and the outgoing one in Washington D.C. –could not possibly bring stability and progress but would cause significant damage my country's path towartds the Euro-Atlantic integration.
Koca Pavlovic MP is the Vice-President of the ACRE member party Movement for Changes (PzP). The content of his opinion piece does not reflect the official opinion of the ACRE. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the opinion piece lies entirely with the author.