Beata Stur

Montenegro: parliamentary elections pluralistic and well-run but legal reform still needed

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Bilboard of Europe Now! Movement for the 2023. Montenegrin parliamentary election.

Montenegro’s early parliamentary elections were competitive and voters were offered a wide range of choices, but the process was weakened by legislative shortcomings as well as divisive campaign rhetoric and a polarized media environment, international observers said in a statement today.

The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and the European Parliament (EP) found that the elections were well managed and the legal framework provides a basis for holding democratic elections, despite a number of gaps and inconsistencies, leaving most previous recommendations unaddressed.

“Voters had an array of choices to make in yesterday’s elections, and fundamental freedoms were respected throughout the campaign,” said Nina Suomalainen, head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “But looking ahead, there is a clear need for election reform to close the remaining gaps and ambiguities and strengthen the system for future elections.”

Only nine parties enter the Parliament

According to the Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI), Europe Now Movement (PES), a pro-EU but also willing friendly relations with Serbia, won 25.6% of votes in a snap election on June 10. However, PES has not enough deputies to rule alone and should opt for a coalition government. The pro-EU Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and other small allied parties received 23.7%. The pro-EU alliance between the Democratic Party and the URA movement of outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic received 12.2% and came fourth. The conservatives of the pro-Serbian and pro-Russia alliance For the Future of Montenegro received 14.7%. 

Fifteen parties and alliances participated in the vote, but only nine will probably elect deputies for the parliament. The state election commission will announce the final results later this week. Montenegro, a member of NATO since 2017, has fully adopted the EU sanctions against Russia.

A clear need for election reform

The elections took place against the backdrop of a lengthy institutional and constitutional crisis. The legal and political uncertainty over the date of the elections contributed to the low-key start to the campaign, which only picked up in the two weeks before voting day. During the campaign, some candidates resorted to populist and divisive rhetoric, often on national and religious grounds. While the use of public resources is banned by law during the campaign, numerous public employment contracts were issued in the election period. There was also a lack of clear distinction between the role of some candidates who are also senior officials, including in their activities on social media.

Women remain underrepresented in political life, mostly because the parties fail to promote their participation beyond the legal minimum. Gender stereotypes are widespread, and observers also noted concerns that violence against women deters many from becoming involved in political life and standing as candidates, with online attacks posing a particularly acute problem.

“With 15 candidate lists, the elections were competitive and all candidates enjoyed equal opportunities in the campaign,” said Reinhold Lopatka, head of the PACE delegation. “However, women remained underrepresented; the culture of gender equality is still low and violence against women who enter politics is not uncommon – particularly on social media.”

Longstanding concerns over voter list accuracy continued to weaken public trust in voter registration. At the same time, the candidate signature collection process needs additional safeguards to avoid abuse. Election day itself was calm and professionally managed, although some procedural safeguards were not always followed during the counting.

“The elections were well run, and we hope the new parliament will provide the support to the government necessary to make the long-awaited and much-needed reforms,” said Nikos Papandreou, head of the EP delegation. “These will only be possible when there is a stable and consensual political environment, a political space where partisan differences will not be an obstacle to an inclusive and equitable growth.”

The media environment is free and diverse, but it is polarized along political lines. The public broadcaster met the legal requirements for offering free airtime and organizing election debates, but most of the election coverage was broadcast on its less popular channel.

The international election observation mission to the early Montenegrin parliamentary elections totalled 147 observers from 27 countries, consisting of 122 ODIHR-deployed experts and long-term and short-term observers, 19 parliamentarians from PACE and 6 from the EP.

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