An opposition coalition came to power in late 2020 following elections held that August, ending three decades of rule by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). At the end of 2020 the new administration was still working to streamline operations and meet international standards for transparency, but had been responsive to criticism from civil society and its political opponents, signaling a shift from the previous administration. Corruption remains a problem, and there are serious deficiencies in the judiciary and a lack of guarantees for due process.
- In the run-up to parliamentary elections in August, the opposition organized into three factions—representing, broadly, right-wing, center-right, and center-left views—which refused to attack one another. Analysts attributed the opposition’s narrow victory to this strategy, pointing to the emergence of a reformist majority that cut across ethnopolitical lines and overcame the DPS, despite the incumbent party’s significant institutional advantages.
- In December, lawmakers voted to approve a new technocratic, reformist government, led by Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, who confirmed the country’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its European Union (EU) trajectory. However, as a government of nonpartisan experts, it is a de facto minority government supported by an ideologically heterogenous parliamentary majority, leaving it vulnerable to instability as its work begins in earnest.
- Protests against a controversial law that appeared to permit the transfer of Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) property to the Monetengrin state continued during the year. The demonstrations drew massive crowds—as well as the ire of President Milo Đukanović, who characterized them as threatening the state—and at times were marred by police violence against protesters. In late December, in somewhat rushed procedure, the new parliamentary majority approved amendments removing the disputed sections of the law.
- The National Coordination Body (NCB), established in March to launch a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, faced criticism over its ability to bypass parliament in enacting emergency procedures, and for a lack of independent experts on its staff. Led by prominent DPS members or their relatives, the NCB additionally faced allegations of partisanship, including over its statement in July that leaders of the opposition Democratic Front (DF) were bringing COVID-19 into the country via their visits to neighboring Serbia. In December, the NCB was disbanded and new bodies were established to coordinate the COVID-19 response.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is chief of state and is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. In April 2018, Milo Đukanović of the DPS, who has served as either prime minister or president for most of the last three decades, was elected president with 53.9 percent of the vote. Independent candidate Mladen Bojanić finished second with 33.4 percent. Đukanović refused to participate in public debates with the other candidates during the campaign. While some irregularities such as misuse of public resources were reported, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the election, stated that the polling was generally credible and respected fundamental rights. However, the mission noted that Đukanović and the DPS enjoyed significant institutional advantages that reduced the poll’s competitiveness.
The president nominates the prime minister, who requires legislative approval. Following the parliamentary elections in August 2020, Đukanović nominated Zdravko Krivokapić, leader of the strongest electoral list in the new post-election coalition, for the post. Krivokapić’s government was then approved in December.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Members of the unicameral, 81-seat Parliament—the Skupština—are directly elected for four-year terms.
While the DPS once again posting the strongest performance by a single party in the 2020 parliamentary election, taking 30 seats, it failed to secure a majority with its traditional coalition partners. With a narrow majority with 41 seats, the new ruling alliance is composed of three coalitions: For the Future of Montenegro (27 seats), Peace is Our Nation (10), and In Black and White (4). Turnout was high, at 76.64 percent.
The OSCE and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) noted that the polls took place in an atmosphere of high polarization over issues including church affiliation and national identity. They also said the elections in some ways violated provisions of the constitution, including because the early election date was never harmonized with other legal obligations; because pandemic-restrictions on movement and assembly impeded campaign activities; and because several lawmakers were arrested or charged with various offenses without their parliamentary immunity first being waived. The line between the ruling parties and the state was again blurred during the campaign, additionally, as the DPS and its coalition partners gained undue advantage through the widespread misuse of state resources, thus affecting the principle of equal opportunity in the campaign.
Nevertheless, the polls were widely considered an improvement from previous years’ contests, with monitors and other analysts concluding that they were conducted in a more secure, orderly, and transparent manner and featured robust participation from across society.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because parliamentary elections held in August, while not free from irregularities, were less affected by issues that compromised previous polls.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The conduct of elections in Montenegro is facilitated by a comprehensive legal and administrative framework, but opposition parties have long claimed that this framework was seriously flawed. In October 2018, Parliament voted to form a committee, composed of seven members from the ruling coalition and seven from the opposition, tasked with crafting legislation to reform electoral laws, taking into consideration recent recommendations of the OSCE and the European Commission (EC). However, numerous opposition parties refused to participate in the committee’s efforts, and insisted on the establishment of a technocratic government as the key precondition for any new electoral framework to be implemented and to yield results.
Nevertheless, in 2020 opposition parties participated in polls run under a framework many had previously characterized as unfair.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
Political parties are for the most part able to form and operate without direct interference. While the 2020 DPS campaign featured familiar attempts to delegitimize opposition activity by equating it with threats to the state or to public order, the party lost its parliamentary majority, and a new technocratic, reformist government was established that December. However, it is a de facto minority government supported by a highly heterogeneous parliamentary majority, leaving it susceptible to future instability.
During 2020, several party and civil society activists were arrested for taking part in political protests across the country.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Prior to the 2020 elections, the DPS had been in power since 1991, which has provided it with significant structural advantages over opposition parties.
In 2020, the opposition gathered in three coalitions, some led by figures relatively new to national politics; the coalitions refused to attack each other and focused criticism instead on the DPS and what they perceived as “satellite parties” that were clear in their intention of joining a postelection coalition with the DPS. In the context of weakened DPS and the church issue, which cut across existing ethnopolitical divides, this proved to be a winning strategy despite the DPS’s institutional advantages. The approval of the new government in December marked the end of three decades of DPS rule.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because an opposition coalition defeated the long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which had been in power for three decades.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
While voters are generally free to express their political choices, extensive patronage systems and widespread corruption encourage loyalty to the DPS, which had been in power for nearly three decades. Many members of the DPS are believed to have ties to organized crime, resulting in opportunities for illicit pressure on voters and candidates. Both public-sector workers, and private-sector employees working for companies with links to the state, have long faced pressure to vote for the former ruling party.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
All citizens have full political rights and electoral opportunities. Small political parties representing interests of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups participate in the political sphere, and members of these minorities are also represented within larger parties—though the Romany population remains underrepresented. In the 2020 elections, voter materials were provided in the Albanian language, but not Romany.
Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions and politics generally. The government has taken steps to increase women’s participation, including through gender quotas on electoral lists, though implementation is uneven. Draginja Vuksanović, the first female presidential candidate in Montenegrin history, won 8 percent of the vote in the 2018 elections.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
Đukanović has wielded vast personalized power for decades through his tenure as both prime minister and president, as well as during his time outside of government as chair of the DPS. Although the constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government, Parliament passed a new law after Đukanović’s April 2018 election that expanded presidential powers, including by allowing the president to form councils, committees, and working groups within the presidency.
The Montenegrin parliament has had limited capacity to exercise its oversight functions, and for years functioned as a rubber stamp for legislation proposed by the DPS-led government. An opposition boycott from 2016 to 2020 further diminished the power of the legislative branch to act as a check. However, since the 2020 election, lawmakers have been working to restore parliamentary powers and oversight capabilities.
The National Coordination Body (NCB), established in March 2020 to coordinate a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, faced criticism over its ability to bypass parliament in enacting emergency procedures, among other issues.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption and cronyism remain widespread, and modest efforts by authorities to address the problem, prompted in part by EU accession requirements, have not produced significant results. A new anticorruption agency began its work in 2016, but EC Progress Reports have been continuously questioned the integrity, credibility, impartiality, independence, accountability, and priority-setting of the agency. The 2020 report characterizes its institutional capacity as weak, producing limited results in its key areas of monitoring, and expressed concern about the prevalence of high-level corruption in government and an overall lack of independence of various public institutions. Senior officials implicated in corruption schemes rarely face prosecution. Civil society organizations and independent media provide some accountability by reporting on official corruption and its effects.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The government publishes some information online, but citizens have few opportunities for meaningful participation in public consultations on legislation and policy reforms. Budget plans are not widely available, nor is information on government contracts.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
A variety of independent media operate in Montenegro, and media coverage tends to be partisan and combative. The DPS government frequently denied opposition media outlets advertising contracts from publicly owned or controlled entities, and the public broadcaster, RTCG, remains under tight control of the DPS. Journalists self-censor to avoid threats, political pressure, costly defamation suits, or job loss. Reporters who cover corruption and organized crime risk violence. Some of the most prominent physical attacks on investigative reporters, such as Olivera Lakić (2018) and Vladimir Otašević (2019), remain unresolved. In contrast, investigative journalist Jovo Martinović was found guilty of participating in drug trafficking, despite the protests of Montenegrin journalists and international organizations and clear that evidence he was working undercover as part of an investigation at the time of his alleged crimes.
Several instances in early 2020 brought attention to the issue of intimidation of reporters. In March, two RTCG journalists were subject to disciplinary proceedings in connection with critical comments about an RTCG documentary, which they had posted on their private social media accounts. Earlier, several journalists were detained on allegations of causing panic and disorder in connection with separate reporting on an explosion, and on protests. There were several instances of journalists being pressured by law enforcement agents to reveal their sources during the year, according to the most recent EC report; additionally, during the campaign period in August, the EC report noted anonymous harassment of journalists critical of the DPS, apparently coordinated on a website created for that purpose.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief, but in recent years Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) and its adherents have been the subject of discrimination and hate speech, and its clergy has been characterized by the DPS as enemies of the state.
In late December 2019, a wave of protests erupted against the newly adopted and controversial Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities, which contained language SOC leaders said would allow the transfer of SOC church buildings and other property to the Montenegrin state. It was adopted after rancorous sessions of Parliament that saw, among other things, the arrest of opposition lawmakers. Discontent among the SOC religious community—the largest confessional group in Montenegro—eventually lead to a wave of the SOC-organized, large-scale peaceful protest rallies against the law. President Đukanović characterized the demonstrations as “a lunatic movement,” and claimed that participants were not against the disputed law, but rather opposed to Montenegrin statehood and independence. Nevertheless, the protests were reportedly the largest in the history of Montenegro, amounting at certain points to a fifth of the population in the streets across the country. In June 2020, members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro “rightly fears that the law serves as an excuse to confiscate property.”
Attempts at dialogue between the government and the church failed to produce an agreement. In late December 2020, in somewhat rushed procedure, the new parliamentary majority adopted changes to the law, removing the controversial parts regulating property rights and ownership of church buildings and estates.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is guaranteed by law and generally upheld. However, in 2017, the rector of the University of Montenegro, who was appointed in 2014 and enacted a series of reforms, was removed by the new government, violating university autonomy. In March 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the Podgorica High Court’s previous ruling that her removal was unlawful. In general, university professors and researchers remain disengaged from critical discussions of the sociopolitical situation in the country, as they may face repercussions.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
People are generally free to engage in public discussions. In 2020, however, a number of people were arrested in connection with posts to public and private Facebook pages that contained satirical content about state symbols or remarks insulting or perceived as insulting to authorities, as well as for sharing unverified news sources or misinformation.
The existence of extensive, DPS-linked patronage networks has fostered an environment where vocal opposition to the government or its policies is still widely believed to jeopardize employment opportunities, both in the public and private sector.
Score Change: The score decreased from 3 to 2 because a number of citizens were arrested for public and private social media posts perceived as critical of the DPS.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
While citizens generally enjoy freedom of assembly, authorities in the past have attempted to limit protests organized by the opposition Democratic Front (DF) party, violence at demonstrations had erupted occasionally, and DPS-controlled media has referred to opposition protests as “antistate.” Some protests in 2020 were marred by arrests and excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Although most NGOs operate without interference, those that investigate corruption or that criticized the former DPS government have faced pressure. During his 2018 presidential campaign, Đukanović made a number of inflammatory statements directed at civil society, saying in a television appearance that some NGOs and members of the media are “unscrupulous fighters for power,” willing to destroy the government in the pursuit of foreign donations. In 2020, Đukanović accused the NGO sector (and independent media) of being responsible for the “bad image of Montenegro in the international community.”
Krivokapić’s government, which took power at the end of 2020, has declared civil society actors its strategic partners in comprehensive reforms.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
There is freedom for trade unions, which remain relatively strong in the public sector. However, reports of intimidation of labor activists by employers continue.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
Efforts to bolster judicial independence continue, though the judiciary remains susceptible to pressure from the government, and judicial corruption remains a problem. There are serious deficiencies in transparency, openness, professionalism, and accountability of the judicial system. In July 2020, the DPS minister of justice called on the president of the Supreme Court and presidents of basic courts who had held their positions for more than two mandates to resign, which they refused to do.
Secret audio recordings and official documents leaked in 2019 implicated Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stanković and president of the Supreme Court Vesna Medenica in bribery and corruption affairs, and these issues were not resolved in 2020. Responsibility for prosecutions remains under the tight grip of the DPS, and selective justice remains a fundamental problem.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are inconsistently upheld. Legal proceedings are lengthy and often highly bureaucratic, particularly when involving business dealings. Police frequently hold suspects in extended pretrial detention while completing investigations. Courts are poorly funded and often overburdened.
Two DF leaders, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, who were charged with plotting an attempted coup in 2016, were found guilty in May 2019 and were each given sentences of up to five years in prison. Legal procedures surrounding the trial were chaotic and opaque, several witnesses recanted testimony, and many details of the alleged plot remained murky after the trial closed. Aspects of the long-running case were denounced by the opposition as attempts by the DPS to bolster its dominant political position, and overall the affair reflected a lack of due process and adherence to proper procedures in criminal matters.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
Violent crime is not a significant problem, although several apparent executions by criminal gangs of rivals have taken place in recent years. Prison conditions do not meet international standards for education or health care, and prison guards reportedly abuse inmates regularly and with impunity.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Members of the Romany, Ashkali, Egyptian, and other ethnic minority groups, and LGBT+ people, face discrimination. Women in Montenegro are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but patriarchal attitudes often limit their salary levels, as well as their educational opportunities.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
The freedom of movement and the right of citizens to change their residence, employment, and institution of higher education, are generally respected in practice. However, many jobs are awarded through patronage, limiting access for those without connections.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
The state sector dominates much of Montenegro’s economy, and related clientelism, as well as corruption, pose obstacles to normal business activity. The minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism resigned in November 2019 after a video recording leaked showing two inspectors from the ministry demanding a kickback from a local businessman.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
The government for the most part does not place restrictions on personal social freedoms. In July 2020, Montenegro legalized same-sex civil partnerships.
Domestic violence remains a problem.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Most workers employed in the private sector remain unprotected from exploitation and arbitrary decisions of their employers. Trafficking in persons for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor remains a problem. The government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making increasing efforts in this regard, according to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report.
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Global Freedom Score63 100 partly free