Electoral Bulletins of the European Union
Presidential and parliamentary elections in Montenegro, March-June 2023
Issue #4


Issue #4


Bojan Baća

Issue 4, January 2024

Elections in Europe: 2023


Montenegro’s postsocialist period has been characterized by high active voter participation ever since the introduction of multiparty elections in 1990, boasting an average turnout of well over 70%. During this period, the country was governed by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), a direct successor of the League of Communists of Montenegro. The DPS had held continuous power since 1945 — although it underwent internal re-compositions of party elites in 1989 and 1997 — until it was ousted from power in the 2020 parliamentary elections. This was the first time in the country’s history that the government changed through the ballot box. The 2023 presidential race essentially served as an epilogue to these elections, representing a de facto referendum on the last remnant of the DPS regime — its long-standing leader and acting president of the country, Milo Đukanović. While securing the first place in the initial round of voting, he ultimately lost the elections in the subsequent runoffs. Jaković Milatović, a deputy president and co-founder of at that time extra-parliamentary Europe Now Movement (PES), won the elections by a substantial margin — with an impressive 58.88% of the vote.

Now that the DPS has lost all its formal power, the June 2023 parliamentary elections witnessed a decline in voter turnout, plummeting to a historic low of 56.25%. With the fear of the “DPS’s return to power” dissipating, combined with overall disappointment in political reforms over the past three years, the 15 electoral lists failed to generate enthusiasm among voters to participate at the polls. However, the recent successes of Milatović, coupled with the prevailing disillusionment toward established political figures and the previously impactful economic reforms under the “Europe Now!” initiative, which led to increased wages, propelled the PES to emerge as the dominant political force, securing the position of the largest party in the parliament with 24 out of the 81 seats. Meanwhile, the DPS-led coalition came in second, though with significantly reduced representation (from 33 to 21), marking the first instance where the DPS failed to secure the majority of seats. Despite the positive outlook that a parliamentary majority would be formed quickly from the anti-DPS political parties, the process of constituting a government became a prolonged ordeal, ultimately resolved in late October 2023.

The Political System of Montenegro

Montenegro conducts national elections for both the parliament and the position of president. The Parliament of Montenegro consists of 81 members who are elected using a proportional representation system employing the D’Hondt method, with each member serving a four-year term. These 81 parliamentary seats are allocated through a single nationwide constituency, utilizing closed-list proportional representation. To secure a place in the national parliament, political parties must exceed an electoral threshold of 3%, except for ethnonational minority lists, which are exempt from this requirement. Minority groups such as Albanians and Bosniaks, comprising approximately 20% of the population, enjoy a reduced electoral threshold of 0.7% if their list falls short of the 3% threshold. In the case of ethnic Croats, if no list representing their population surpasses the 0.7% threshold, the list with the highest number of votes will secure one seat if it garners more than 0.35% of the vote.

The President of Montenegro is elected in a nationwide vote, and a second-round runoff is held between the top two candidates if no candidate attains an absolute majority in the initial round. The president can serve a maximum of two five-year terms in office. The parliament’s responsibilities encompass appointing the prime minister nominated by the president and confirming the ministers chosen by the prime minister. Furthermore, the parliament plays a central role in enacting all legislation in Montenegro, ratifying international treaties, appointing justices to all courts, adopting the national budget, and performing other duties as outlined in the Constitution. The parliament also holds the authority to pass a vote of no-confidence in the government with a majority vote from its members.

Over three decades of the dominant party system, Montenegro underwent the so-called “transition without transformation”. While implementing formal democratic changes, the DPS retained complete control over state organs and assets, effectively acting as the owner of the state infrastructure and its resources, turning the dominant party into a “political machine” for vote-buying (Milovac 2016, Morrison 2018). The country made progress from authoritarianism to a semi-consolidated democracy during the 1998–2006 period, but it began to backslide into a competitive authoritarian regime after gaining independence (Bieber 2019). The DPS regime not only established a highly efficient patronage network to maintain popular support but also developed a successful populist rhetoric to justify its undemocratic and corrupt practices as a necessary defense of the state against the “ethnonational other” — which was always portrayed as seeking to undermine the country’s statehood — and, after 2006, to portray its rule as the conditio sine qua non for Montenegrin independence and its pro-Western course (Džankić and Keil 2017).

Effectively, ethnopolitics became the predominant form of politics, with the post-independence fault line drawn primarily within the Slavic-Orthodox population: between “loyal” Montenegrins (together with “loyal” ethnic/national minorities) on one side, and “disloyal” Serbs on the other. As ethnonational belonging became the key predictor of voter behavior (Bešić and Spasojević 2018, Komar and Živković 2016), the DPS worked diligently to deepen and widen the existing ethnopolitical cleavage, framing any cross-ethnic and civic-oriented alliance building with Serbs as a betrayal of national interests and a threat to Montenegro itself (Baća 2017). However, in 2019, the DPS introduced controversial legislation that transferred the ownership of church buildings and estates, including property rights, from the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) of Montenegro to the Montenegrin state. This action created dynamics in which many religious DPS supporters sided with the clergy instead of their party, rendering religious affiliation the issue that bridged the Montenegrin–Serb divide and ultimately provided the numbers necessary for the opposition to overthrow the DPS in subsequent elections.

The desire to defeat long-ruling Đukanović reluctantly brought together three ideologically diverse opposition alliances: the center-left coalition “In Black and White” led by the United Reform Action (URA), the center-right coalition “Peace is Our Nation” led by the Democratic Montenegro (DM), and the right-wing coalition “For the Future of Montenegro” led by the Democratic Front (DF). They formed a technocratic “expert government” led by Zdravko Krivokapić, which was ousted in a vote of no confidence in February 2022. It was then replaced by a short-lived “minority government” led by Dritan Abazović and supported by the DPS, which also ended its tenure with vote of no confidence in August 2022. The parliamentary crisis triggered a ripple effect, resulting in the institutional paralysis and a prolonged caretaker status of several major institutions, including the national government, state prosecutor’s office, and the constitutional court. As the anti-DPS parliamentary majority failed to deliver on many promises and ended up being fractured and antagonistic, there was widespread anticipation that Đukanović and his party would make a comeback to power.

The 2023 Presidential Elections

Presidential elections were held in Montenegro on 19 March 2023. Since none of the seven candidates received a majority of the vote, a second-round vote was held on 2 April. Voter turnout was 64.07% in the first round and increased to 70.14% in the second round. This turnout marked an increase compared to the 63.92% recorded in the 2018 elections when Đukanović won in the first round with 53.9% of the vote. It was the first time a runoff vote was held since the 1997 election and also the first election since then where an incumbent president actively seeking reelection was denied a second term. In the first round, Đukanović received 35.37%, securing the first position. Milatović, a former economy minister in the Krivokapić’s technocratic government, outperformed the polls, gaining 28.92% of the votes, and faced Đukanović in the second round. Andrija Mandić, one of the leaders of the DF, secured 19.32% of the votes, finishing third in the first round, while Aleksa Bečić, leader of the DM and endorsed by Abazović, ended up in fourth place with 11.10%. Other candidates received a relatively insignificant percentage of votes: Draginja Vuksanović-Stanković, a candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), received 3.15%; Goran Danilović, a candidate of United Montenegro (UM), received 1.38%; and the independent candidate Jovan Radulović received 0.76%. The second-round runoff resulted in Milatović defeating Đukanović in a landslide, making him the first elected president who is not a member of the DPS since the introduction of the multi-party system in 1990. Endorsed by Mandić, Bečić, Danilović, and prime minister Abazović, Milatović won roughly 60% of the popular vote.

Despite complaints from certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civic activists who filed a case with the Constitutional Court against Đukanović’s candidacy, claiming that the national electoral commission wrongly interpreted the legislation by allowing him to run for a third term, the institutional response was almost non-existent. The PES initially decided to nominate its popular leader, Milojko Spajić, a former finance minister in the Krivokapić technocratic government, as its candidate. Montenegrin law, however, disqualifies individuals with illegal dual citizenship from running for the presidency. Spajić was eliminated because he held Serbian citizenship. His disqualification by the national electoral commission, which was mostly comprised of DPS and DF loyalists, was criticized by many NGO activists and lawyers as a breach of its authority, a blatant case of selectivity (since the commission did not check the citizenship status of other candidates), a violation of the legislation, and a de facto foreign (Serbian) interference in Montenegro’s electoral process. Shortly after that, Milatović was nominated as the new PES candidate. Heavy misinformation and negative campaigns against Milatović by Serbian and Montenegrin nationalist media affiliated with the DPS and DF — including attempts at physical violence by Đukanović supporters that led to Milatović being assigned police protection — actually worked to his advantage. These actions appeared as desperate attempts to eliminate a pro-Western and civic-oriented option that focused on solving socio-economic problems and everyday life issues, rather than deepening ethnopolitical divisions upon which both the DPS and DF thrived for decades.

During the campaign, Đukanović once again presented himself as Montenegro’s last defense against colonization by Serbia, and the sole guarantee of its pro-Western course and civic composition. Rhetorically invoking images of chaos and destruction — even “the survival of Montenegro” — if he is not elected, he played the ethnopolitical card, portraying Milatović as a manipulator who presented himself as pro-European and democratic but was essentially a Serbian nationalist and Russian asset aiming to change Montenegro’s strategic (geo)political course. Milatović’s campaign, on other hand, was focused on reconciliation and the future, emphasizing economic development, political freedom, and social justice. Nevertheless, he often attacked Đukanović as “Europe’s last dictator”, accusing him of enabling organized crime, systemic corruption, and ethnonational divisions that have consumed the country. In the end, Đukanović’s defeat, within a context where his opponent refused to engage in the ethnopolitical game, marked the conclusion of populist ethnopolitics as the dominant framework in Montenegrin politics. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections served as proof of this fact, as ethnonational belonging ceased to be the primary determinant of voting patterns.

The 2023 Parliamentary Elections

The presidential race was followed by the parliamentary elections on 11 June 2023. The PES gained political momentum in the city assembly elections in Podgorica, held on 23 October 2022, when it won 13 seats (21.7%). Together with the DF, DM, and URA, it formed the local government, with its vice president, Olivera Injac, becoming the first female mayor of the capital in its history. Milatović’s success in the presidential race cemented the PES’s popularity and rise, setting high expectations for the parliamentary elections. Spajić created an inclusive electoral list, effectively forming a political alliance under the name “Europe Now!”, which included activist associations such as Alternativa, local civic initiatives such as Herceg Novi’s List, smaller parliamentary parties like Civis and UM, as well as the Justice and Reconciliation Party (JRP) which represents the Bosniak ethnic minority.

Fifteen electoral lists participated in the elections, with nine of them securing parliamentary seats: the PES-led alliance “Europe Now!” (24 seats, 25.53% of the vote); the DPS-led “Together!” coalition (21 seats, 23.22% of the vote); the “For the Future of Montenegro” coalitions, comprised of three former DF constituents (13 seats, 14.74% of the vote); the “Count Bravely” coalition, comprised of URA and DM (11 seats, 12.48% of the vote); and the “For You” coalition, comprised of the Socialist People’s Party (SPP) and DEMOS (3 seats, 3.13%). The minority lists that entered the parliament were the Bosniak Party (BP) with 6 seats (7.08%), the Albanian Forum (AF) coalition with 2 seats (1.91%), the Albanian Alliance (AA) coalition with 1 seat (1.50%), and the Croatian Civic Initiative with 1 seat (0.74%). Parliamentary veterans — the SDP with 2.98% and the Movement for Changes (MFC), a former DF constituent, with 0.66% — failed to cross the 3% threshold. Similarly, the People’s Coalition (1.20%), as well as citizens’ initiatives “Turnaround for a Safe Montenegro” with 1.60%, “Yes, We Can!” with 0.48%, and “Justice for All” (JFA) with 2.77%, failed to enter the parliament. The DPS experienced the most significant drop in the number of seats, falling from 30 to 17. The DF also saw a decrease, moving from 20 to 13 seats, while the PES emerged as the clear winner, going from a non-parliamentary status to 19 seats. It is worth mentioning that the BP doubled its number of seats, going from 3 to 6, the AF went from 0 to 2, while the SNP and DEMOS lost a total of 4 seats, now sitting at 2. Other parties remained largely unchanged (+/-1 seat).

Better result expectations for all parties were thwarted by an unprecedentedly low turnout of 56.25%. Several reasons contributed to this fact. First, during their tenure in the Krivokapić government, Spajić and Milatović achieved remarkable results with their “Europe Now!” program. It led to an increase in the net monthly minimum wage from €250 to €450 and the average monthly net wage from €530 to €700, enabling them to easily shift the political discourse from ethnopolitical antagonisms to socio-economic and everyday life problems by making promises regarding additional wage and pension increases. Second, in the context of tangible improvement in living conditions, populist ethnopolitical framings that had previously polarized society lost their mobilization power, which in turn opened doors for cross-ethnic and civic-oriented coalition building toward shared goals. The success of the PES in gaining support across all ethnonational groups forced populist parties such as the DPS and the DF to tone down on ethnopolitical framings and focus their campaigns on real-life issues, such as the standard and quality of living, fight against systemic corruption and organized crime, among others. Finally, there was visible disappointment within the existing anti-DPS parliamentary majority — especially in the Abazović government — which continued with nepotistic and clientelistic practices that characterized the previous regime. This continuation of corruptive and partitocratic practices generated resentment towards the political elites in general. However, despite the PES’s success, the political inexperience of its leadership and personal animosities within the party, coupled with a hostile Abazović government, quickly turned their parliamentary triumph into a challenge when it came to securing the parliamentary majority for the new government.

Post-Election Drama

After the election results were announced, Spajić ruled out not only a coalition with the DPS but also with URA. He cited its use of extensive state resources for a negative campaign against the PES. However, some Western embassies, especially US diplomats, became unusually involved in the Montenegrin democratic process. They advocated for excluding the DF successor, For the Future of Montenegro (FFM), from the future pro-Western government, viewing it as a pro-Russian party. Such external involvement caused divisions within the PES itself, as well as created resentment and apathy among many segments of society who felt their votes were insignificant, assuming that everything was decided by embassies. This situation posed a significant problem for Spajić, as securing the 2/3 or 3/5 support in the parliament is a necessary precondition for judicial reforms required for Montenegro’s successful EU accession process. The unstable majority in the legislature, where even the smallest party held a blackmailing capacity, plagued both the Krivokapić and Abazović governments, rendering them incapable of achieving their strategic goals. In both instances, the SOC played an important role in facilitating the formation of governments, particularly in pacifying and bringing the DF to the table.

The prolonged negotiations for the formation of the government resulted in internal frictions within the PES. Consequently, two party members holding seats in the parliament were expelled, and UM left the PES list to join the opposition. On 19 October, after months of negotiations, a coalition agreement was reached between PES, FFM, DM, SPP, Civis, AF, and AA. Balancing between the interests of Western partners and the will of the people, a new government without ministers from the FFM was formed on 31 October. Andrija Mandić, leader of the FFM, assumed the role of President of Parliament. According to the coalition agreement, the FFM will extend parliamentary support until the end of 2024, after which a government reshuffle will introduce FFM-appointed ministers.


Baća, B. (2017). Civil Society Against the Party-State? The Curious Case of Social Movements in Montenegro. In Mujanović, J. (ed.), The Democratic Potential of Emerging Social Movements in Southeastern Europe (pp. 33-39). Sarajevo: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Bešić, M. & Spasojević, D. (2018). Montenegro, NATO and the Divided Society. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 51(2): 139–150.

Bieber, F. (2019). The Rise of Authoritarianism in the Western Balkans. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Džankić, J. & Keil, S. (2017). State-sponsored Populism and the Rise of Populist Governance: The Case of Montenegro. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 19(4): 403–418.

Komar, O. & Živković, S. (2016). Montenegro: A Democracy without Alternations. East European Politics and Societies 30(4): 785–804.

Milovac, D. (2016). Montenegro: Democratic Deficits Persist Instead of Progressing Euro-Atlantic Integration. Südosteuropa Mitteilungen 56(1): 34–41.

Morrison, K. (2018). Nationalism, Identity and Statehood in Post-Yugoslav Montenegro. London: Bloomsbury.

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Bojan Baća, Presidential and parliamentary elections in Montenegro, March-June 2023, Jun 2024,

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