Self-Entrapment of the Eternal Leader: Milo Djukanovićs imminent return as Montenegrin President

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After months of speculation, former president, party leaders, president Milo Djukanović declared his candidacy for the Montenegrin presidential elections just one before the election.

If (about as hypothetical as “if there is East this year”) elected president, Milo Djukanović will at the end of his presidential term have been in power in Montenegro for more than three decades: twice as president, six times as prime minister and twice as “just” the grey eminence at the head of the ruling party. No country in Europe has been ruled and dominated by a single person for so long, not Putin, not Lukashenko, not even Bavaria).

So why return to office today? Of course, there are many explanations, including the claims of his party that the opposition are all a bunch of traitors, anti-Montenegrin forces and the president must remain in safe hands. Yes, the opposition is divided and parts of it are compromised by their pro-Russian and Serb nationalist rhetoric. However, the return of Milo Djukanović has nothing to do with this.

Over three decades, he built up a system in which the fusion between state and party was never ruptured as it was in other post-Yugoslavia republics. The ruling DPS has become a catch-all party without a discernible program. Granted, it supports the Euro-Atlantic integration, but has been a pioneer of fake and shallow reforms that is now a model for most governments in the Western Balkans. The ruling party and its model of rule, based on clientalism, and state control, hinges on one person holding the system together–Milo Djukanović. Thus, there is little space for him to retire. Without a popular and able successor to hold the system of power together, the dominance of the party is likely to wane. Only the weakness of the opposition, fragmented into a dozen parties with conflicting priorities and programs, lead by politicians running against the government for nearly 20 years, eases the rule of the Democratic Party of Socialists.

Nevertheless, Djukanović is trapped in the system he built himself. Passing on the patrimonial system he created will either lead to a new leader who will have to sacrifice Djukanović sooner or later or one who will seek genuine reform and transformation and will also need to rid him-or herself-from the strongman. Thus, it would appear that Djukanovič and Montenegro will remain intrinsically linked for years to come. However, the inability of the ruling party to move beyond Djukanović might help it to gain elections in the short run, but will be eventually its downfall, unable to re-generate itself.

An earlier version of this comment was first published by Radio Free Europe

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