Djukanovic Keeps Montenegro’s Would-be Presidents Guessing

Montenegro's political parties seem reluctant to decide who to field in April presidential election – amid continued uncertainty over whether veteran strongman Milo Djukanovic will return to the scene.
Milo Djukanoic. Photo: Montenegrin parliament.

Two months before the presidential election in Montenegro, it is still unknown who the main candidates in the race will be.

The main parties are all pondering their options, waiting to see if Montenegro’s veteran leader, Milo Djukanovic, returns once again to frontline politics.

Djukanovic retired from politics after his Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, won the 2016 general elections but is reportedly mulling another comeback for the presidential election.

He led the country over 25 years, remains leader of the DPS, and would be its number-one choice in the election.

However, some ascribe his hesitation to run to the opposition of some Western countries to the prospect of his return.

The opposition parties are also reluctant to show their cards, awaiting the outcome inside the ruling party before deciding their own candidates.

Podgorica-based analyst and journalist Samir Kajosevic said that it is symptomatic that the DPS keeps postponing the promotion of a presidential candidate – although it vowed to do so last November.

“This could mean that Djukanovic still has to weigh up his return to a state post, but could also be confirmation that, after his sudden withdrawal from the prime minister’s office in 2016, there is international pressure on him to retire for good,” he told BIRN on Monday.

In an op-ed article on January 22, US-based analyst Janusz Bugajski, an expert on the Balkans, criticised “attempts by some Western embassies to sideline Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s most important political figure”, calling them “a short-sighted strategic mistake”.

“One cannot assume that because Montenegro joined NATO, its security problems are fully resolved. The Kremlin, together with Serbian nationalists, will continue to undermine the state and without a proven pro-Western leadership, opportunities for destabilization will expand,” he warned.

If Djukanovic’s return is not supported by the country’s Western partners, Kajosevic believes that the delay will buy time for his party to find another decent candidate.

“The opposition delays in promoting their contenders might have nothing to do with the DPS, but may reflect the fact that the parties are aware that there is no deal on a joint opposition candidate – despite their declared commitment,” he said.

Montenegro’s presidential elections on April 15 will be the third such election since the country regained its independence in 2006.

So far, only the university professor Djordjije Blazic has announced that he will run as an independent candidate but his odds are not good against the party-backed candidates.

Incumbent President Filip Vujanovic has served two consecutive five-year terms since Montenegro became an independent nation and cannot run again.

He was already in office when the country split from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, having served in the office since 2003.