Montenegrin politics has faced perhaps the most striking elections in the country’s history. On March 19, 2023, the first round of the presidential elections was held and on April 2, 2023, the second round was held and President Milo Dukanovic, a name that has long marked the country’s politics, lost the elections against Jakov Milatovic, who was twenty-four years younger than him. The 2023 presidential elections are of great importance not only in Montenegro but also in the region and for the Montenegrin diaspora.
As it is known, Montenegro went to the presidential elections under the shadow of the coalition government that could not be successfully sustained after the 2020 parliamentary elections. Given that President Dukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DSP) has been on a downward trend for a long time, Dukanovic’s chances in the elections were considered low. Nevertheless, Dukanovic’s party and he himself have always resonated with his constituency because of his achievements representing Montenegrin nationalism, playing a role in the country’s independence, making the country a member of NATO and an official candidate for the European Union (EU).
In Montenegro, the president is directly elected by the people. On March 19, 2023, the first round of elections was held and Dukanovic received 35% of the votes. His closest rival, Milatovic, the candidate of the “European Movement Now”, received 29% of the votes. The second round of the elections was held on April 2, 2023 as no candidate was able to exceed 50%. According to the election results of the second round, Milatovic defeated Dukanovic by a large margin; 59% to 41%. The election results announced the beginning of a new era in the whole country and the end of the Dukanovic era, which has been present in the country’s politics since the 1990s.
Milatovic, who increased his votes in the second round, received votes from Serbian parties, while Dukanovic increased his votes with Bosniak and Albanian minorities. The fact that Serbian parties openly declared in the second round that they wanted to end the Dukanovic era in Montenegro as soon as possible and declared their support for Milatovic had a decisive impact on the election results.
Dukanovic campaigned on the influence of Serbia and Russia, especially in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine War. Dukanovic stated that an unstable government took over the country after the parliamentary elections in 2020, which his party lost, and that the country was struggling to make the necessary reforms in the EU harmonization process. However, it should be noted that Dukanovic has sometimes used his presidential powers to put obstacles in the way of the government.
At the same time, Dukanovic stated that the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country had ceased to be a religious institution and became a political one, and wanted to nationalize its assets. Upon this, major protests took place in the country. In 2020, with the new government established, an agreement was reached between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Government of Montenegro. Dukanovic, on the other hand, characterized this process as a compromise and claimed that the government was not national.
The “Europe Now Movement” is a very young movement, but it became part of the government after the elections in 2020 and achieved a great success in the previous local elections, winning the capital Podgorica. It also nominated Economy Minister Milatovic as its candidate in the presidential elections. Milatovic is known as a young and successful politician who studied at Oxford University. The accusations against Milatovic were that if he were to become president, the country would be under the control of Serbia and Russia.
The singing of Serbian flags and songs by some of the citizens who took to the streets for victory celebrations after it became clear that he had won the election suggests that this may be true. However, it should be noted that Milatovic, as the name of the movement he belongs to suggests, has a pro-EU political stance. He has also announced that his first foreign visit will be to Brussels, despite an invitation to Belgrade by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Milatovic’s statements that Russia has invaded Ukraine, that Serbs committed genocide in Srebrenica and that his country will not give up its desire to recognize Kosovo indicate that Milatovic will pursue a foreign policy compatible with the EU. Stating that his country will become a member of the EU within five years, Milatovic also said that he will fight against corruption, which is one of the main issues blocking the reform processes.
The corruption and lack of transparency in the country has often been swept under the rug by Dukanovic, who is seen as a friend by the United States and the EU. Although Milotovic’s messages are positively evaluated by the West, it can be said that the West will choose to watch the new political atmosphere in Montenegro objectively for a while.
On the other hand, although Dukanovic resigned as party chairman after losing the elections, he has not yet announced that he will leave politics. This situation will become clearer after the early elections to be held in June 2023. Considering that the parliamentary arithmetic will also be decisive for the new political atmosphere, it can be said that the eventful weeks in Montenegrin politics are not over yet. It remains to be seen how Milatovic and his political movement, which was supported and elected by Serbian parties, will proceed after the parliamentary elections.
Whatever the case, Montenegrin politics experienced a major change on the occasion of the presidential elections and Dukanovic suffered a heavy defeat. The upcoming parliamentary elections and the government to be formed afterwards will make the future of the country’s politics more predictable.
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