RussiaApril 5 2023, 4:03 am

Montenegro Says No to Pro-Russian and Anti-LGBTQ Party in Presidential Election

A pro-Russ­ian can­di­date was defeat­ed but man­aged to score almost 20% of the vote in the recent­ly con­clud­ed Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Mon­tene­gro. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Front (DF) is a right-wing pop­ulist and social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal alliance in Mon­tene­gro. It com­pris­es sev­er­al par­ties that share a pro-Russ­ian and anti-NATO stance and a strong oppo­si­tion to the long-rul­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Social­ists (DPS) led by Milo Đukanović. The DF was found­ed in 2012 as a catch-all alliance of var­i­ous polit­i­cal forces, but it shift­ed to the right after the depar­ture of its for­mer leader Mio­drag Lek­ić in 2015. The DF has been accused of being involved in a failed coup attempt in 2016, which alleged­ly aimed to pre­vent Mon­tene­gro from join­ing NATO. The DF denies any wrong­do­ing and claims that the coup plot was fab­ri­cat­ed by the DPS to dis­cred­it the opposition.

In 2019,  The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Front accused a “gay lob­by” of try­ing to seize con­trol of polit­i­cal par­ties and of under­min­ing tra­di­tion­al val­ues. The par­ty called on the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty to estab­lish a polit­i­cal par­ty if they desire to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics, alleg­ing that they col­lab­o­rate with the secret ser­vice, non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions, and the media to under­mine par­ties that uphold “fam­i­ly val­ues” like theirs. “They car­ry out bru­tal attacks on tra­di­tion­al con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal par­ties, our cul­ture, iden­ti­ty and church and spir­i­tu­al her­itage,” the alliance said in a press release.

In the 2020 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, the DF joined forces with oth­er oppo­si­tion par­ties to form a pre-elec­tion coali­tion called For the Future of Mon­tene­gro. The coali­tion man­aged to win 27 seats in the 81-mem­ber par­lia­ment, becom­ing the largest oppo­si­tion bloc and end­ing the DPS’s 30-year rule. The coali­tion formed a new gov­ern­ment with two oth­er oppo­si­tion alliances, led by Prime Min­is­ter Zdravko Kri­vokapić, a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor and a for­mer mem­ber of the DF.

In the 2023 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the DF nom­i­nat­ed Andri­ja Mandić, one of its co-lead­ers and a promi­nent Serb nation­al­ist, as its can­di­date. Mandić had vis­it­ed Moscow sev­er­al times, meet­ing with Russ­ian offi­cials and politi­cians. He open­ly sought Rus­si­a’s sup­port in oppos­ing the coun­try’s NATO accession.

In May 2019, 13 peo­ple, includ­ing Mandic, Kneze­vic, two Russ­ian mil­i­tary intel­li­gence offi­cers, and eight Serbs, were sen­tenced to up to 15 years in prison for stag­ing an attempt­ed coup. They were found guilty of plot­ting to com­mit “ter­ror­ist acts” and under­mine the con­sti­tu­tion­al order of Mon­tene­gro dur­ing the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, intend­ing to over­throw the pro-West­ern DPS-led gov­ern­ment and pre­vent the coun­try from join­ing NATO. In Feb­ru­ary 2021, the Mon­tene­grin appel­late court over­turned the ver­dict against Mandić and the oth­er defen­dants and ordered a retrial.

Mandić ran on a plat­form of defend­ing the rights and inter­ests of Serbs in Mon­tene­gro, who com­prise about a third of the pop­u­la­tion. He also advo­cat­ed for clos­er ties with Rus­sia and Ser­bia and revis­ing Mon­tene­gro’s NATO mem­ber­ship. Mandić faced two main rivals: incum­bent Pres­i­dent Milo Đukanović of the DPS, who sought his third term as head of state, and Jakov Mila­tović of Europe Now!, a cen­trist, anti-cor­rup­tion and pro-Euro­pean polit­i­cal move­ment found­ed in June 2022

The first round of the elec­tion was held on March 19, 2023. Accord­ing to offi­cial results, Đukanović came first with 35% of the vote, fol­lowed by Mila­tović with 29% and Mandić with 19%. None of the can­di­dates received more than 50% of the vote, which was required to win out­right. A sec­ond round was held on April 2, 2023, between Đukanović and Mila­tović. In a sur­pris­ing upset, Mila­tović defeat­ed Đukanović by a land­slide mar­gin of 59% to 41%, becom­ing the first elect­ed pres­i­dent not affil­i­at­ed with the DPS since the intro­duc­tion of the mul­ti-par­ty sys­tem in 1990. Mila­tović’s vic­to­ry was seen as a sign of change and renew­al in Mon­tene­grin pol­i­tics, as well as a rejec­tion of Đukanović’s author­i­tar­i­an­ism and corruption.

The DF accept­ed the elec­tion’s out­come and con­grat­u­lat­ed Mila­tović on his win. How­ev­er, it also expressed dis­ap­point­ment with its per­for­mance and vowed to con­tin­ue its strug­gle for a more demo­c­ra­t­ic and sov­er­eign Mon­tene­gro. The DF also pledged to sup­port the gov­ern­ment led by Kri­vokapić, who endorsed Mila­tović in the sec­ond round. The DF said it hoped that Mila­tović would respect the will of the peo­ple and work togeth­er with all polit­i­cal forces to over­come the chal­lenges fac­ing Montenegro.

The elec­tion was seen as lit­mus test for the influ­ence of Rus­sia in the region and the effec­tive­ness of US-EU efforts to pro­vide an alter­na­tive path for­ward. Key con­cerns includ­ed Russ­ian med­dling in the elec­tion and domes­tic sym­pa­thy for Russ­ian aims, which could pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­fer­ence. Mon­tene­gro plays a cru­cial role in main­tain­ing sta­bil­i­ty in the West­ern Balka­ns and is a key fac­tor in ensur­ing NATO’s full con­trol of the Adri­at­ic coast. The land­slide vic­to­ry for the cen­trist, pro-Euro­pean can­di­date could help deter­mine whether Mon­tene­gro and the West­ern Balka­ns will fall under fur­ther Russ­ian influ­ence or main­tain a com­mit­ment to a Euro­pean perspective.



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