Who won the Montenegrin elections?

I participated in a workshop on the state of the Western Balkans last week in Munich organized by the Hanns-Seidel Foundation, the party foundation of the Bavarian Christian Democrats. As a speaker noted that in Montenegro there has not been a change of government through elections since 1945 (a point I have made as well), an unnamed gentleman sitting next to me whispered in my ear “This is just like in Bavaria!” The location, the “Franz Joseph Strauss Saal” made the comment even more appropriate. There are some differences between Bavaria and Montenegro, however. A political system with a single party dominance can be more easily compatible with a consolidated democracy when a region of a larger state is in question. At least national politics brings about changes of government. It could thus be argued that the lack of change of government (at least not through elections), indeed a feature of Montenegro, has become a more serious deficiency of the political system once Montenegro become independent. However, looking a the result of the most recent parliamentary elections suggests that this is not about to change.

As the election results came in, both the government and opposition celebrated their victory. The opposition of course did not win the largest share of the votes, but it celebrated for depriving the governing coalition of their absolute majority. So who really won?

It is true that the governing DPS and its partners (SDP and the Liberal Party) lost their absolute majority in these elections, but considering them as losers would be getting the numbers wrong. First, having won 46.3% of the vote and 39 of 41 seats necessary to form a government means that the current governing parties are still doing extremely well. A comparison with previous elections also shows that the loss of the governing coalition is insubstantial. Since 2002, i.e. for ten years, the ruling parties have gained nearly identical numbers of votes (between 164,000 and 168,000). This variation of less than 2.5% of the vote over a ten year period is a striking sign of stability and the ability of the DPS and its allies to mobilize a very stable and large segment of the electorate. From this point of view, the elections in 2012 were worse than in 2009, but better than 2006. Thus, there is clearly no defeat visible here. If we look now at the largest opposition party, we find considerably more variation over time. The lowest point is reached in 2006 when the opposition is divided between pro-Yugoslav (whatever that meant at the time), Serb national and technocratic-economic camps. The opposition has left this low point now firmly behind, but it remains weaker than the SNP was as the main opposition party in 2001 and 2002. While the Democratic Front might signal the increasing ability of the opposition to form a joint platform and focus on issues other than identity politics, the odds of winning elections without a change in DPS seems difficult to imagine considering its very steady electoral base.


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