By Mark McGuire
Montenegro’s long serving Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has stepped down as head of the nation’s government amidst claims of foreign interference in the country’s elections. Djukanovic’s announcement comes amid heightened tensions within the country following his Democratic Party of Socialists’ first place finish in the parliamentary election which, as reported by Business Insider, has largely been framed as a referendum on NATO and European Union membership.
The October elections in Montenegro come at a pivotal time in the country’s history. According to the Irish Times, Montenegro signed the NATO Accession Protocol in May, positioning the country to join the Western military alliance upon ratification by all 28 members. In light of the agreement, the elections were viewed as the final opportunity to halt Montenegro’s “westward” trajectory by pro-Russian leaders and as the final step to full European integration by pro-West leaders.
Throughout the course of election day on October 16, citizens were largely unable to access social media apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. According to Global Voices, the disruptions were caused by Montenegro’s Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services, which instituted a temporary ban on such sites in an effort to prevent “unwanted communications.”
Additionally, as Fox News reports, the Montenegrin government arrested 20 Serbians alleged to be planning attacks on state institutions and officials. Bratislav Dikic, the former special forces commander for Serbia, was among those arrested.
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) headed by Djukanovic, who has served as either president or prime minister for 21 years since 1991, ultimately emerged as the clear winner of the tumultuous October election. The pro-Western party, however, is weaker than following the 2012 parliamentary election due to the dissolution of its alliance with the Social Democratic Party. As a result, the DPS no longer holds an absolute parliamentary majority.
On October 25, adding to Montenegro’s internal instability, as noted by BBC, the Serbian government claimed they had arrested a number of individuals alleged to have been plotting a coup attempt against Djukanovic.
Following the arrests of alleged coup plotters in Montenegro and Serbia, Djukanovic, as reported by the Guardian, announced that he was stepping down as prime minister to serve as the chairman of his party. Djukanovic’s resignation is not without precedent though, as the New York Times reports, in that he has given up the prime ministry twice before while maintaining his party chairmanship, only to come back a number of months later to resume the office once more.
Djukanovic’s announcement came just hours after he declared the government had opened an investigation into potential Russian involvement in the October 16 coup attempt. The proclamation served to bolster Djukanovic’s claims that Russia has been attempting to interfere in Montenegrin internal affairs.
The investigation launched by Djukanovic marks a significant escalation from his previous accusations that Russia has been providing significant sums of money to the Democratic Front, the chief opposition party, and propagating large amounts of anti-government propaganda.
With allegations of corruption and authoritarian style rule widespread against Djukanovic and disdain for him on the rise, both pro-Western and pro-Russian supporters have reacted positively to Djukanovic’s departure. Pro-Western factions hope that his retirement from the prime ministry will remove a potentially significant roadblock to NATO and EU membership, while pro-Russian groups hope that his departure will slow the process of Western integration Djukanovic has, in their view, aggressively championed.