On 25 May, Montenegrins will vote in local elections in a number of cities including the capital, Podgorica. Analysts are framing the election as a “test” for the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). In the run-up to the elections, Montenegrin civil society has been monitoring and reporting a number of irregularities. In the middle of March, the organisation MANS (The Network for the Affirmation of the NGO Sector, an ERCAS network organization) filed criminal charges against several members of the party for alleged abuses of electoral law.
Following local elections in Berane in March, MANS reported that long lists of residents received “so-called one-time financial assistance” from the local boards of the DPS (Democratic Party of Socialists).” The party is also accused by MANS of padding electoral rolls with “eligible voters” who in fact live abroad or are even deceased. Parties who wish to participate in the May elections had until the end of April to file their electoral rolls.
Montenegro held presidential elections in 2013 which were marred by allegations of fraud. Both incumbent candidate Filip Vujanovic (DPS) and challenger Miodrag Lekic (Democratic Front) claimed victory with the latter demanding a full vote recount. Vujanovic, who was seeking his second presidential term, was declared the victor by the Montenegrin Electoral Commission. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that “from a technical standpoint the election was administered in an efficient manner and fundamental rights were mostly respected.”
According to an IPSOS poll in February 2014, 47% of Montenegrins do not think that elections in the country are free and fair. 48% of those who do trust in the elections are registered with one of the ruling parties. In order to try and improve voter trust in the electoral process, Center for Democratic Transitions (CDT, also an ERCAS network organization) drafted a code of conduct which all political parties have now signed. The agreement consists of four parts, the first declaring the right of all participants to disseminate their political views, the second declaring that parties will not engage in voter intimidation or padding of electoral rolls, the third stating that parties will advocate nonviolence and the fourth stating that parties will commit to not abusing power.
Milica Kovacevic, editor of the CDT portal, observed: “The upcoming elections are definitely more than just local elections. 30% of the Montenegrin population lives in Podgorica, and many believe that a change of power at the local level may lead to a change in the national government. These elections are test for all political parties, because it is like a mid-term test of their strength. The results of that test might decide whether extraordinary parliamentary elections are needed.”
In addition to their work in engaging political parties to improve voter trust, CDT is also helping to hold candidates accountable. In their Journal of Promises, (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here) CDT researchers have compiled campaign promises made by candidates which will be evaluated after the candidate has been elected.
Montenegro applied to join the EU in 2008 and started negotiations in 2012. Progress reports have been positive, but the country has been called upon to ensure media freedom, women’s rights, corruption and organized crime.