Partly Free
PR Political Rights 26 40
CL Civil Liberties 41 60
Last Year's Score & Status
67 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

An opposition coalition came to power in 2020, ending three decades of rule by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). However, the country is mired in political and institutional crisis due to an unstable and shifting parliamentary majority and paralyzed Constitutional Court. Corruption in politics and in the judiciary remain problems. Montenegro is home to dynamic media and civil society sectors, and, notwithstanding persistent problems within the judicial system, civil liberties are generally respected.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • Following a period of instability, the government of Zdravko Krivokapić was toppled in a February no-confidence vote. In August, new prime minister Dritan Abazović’s government collapsed in another no-confidence vote, prompted by his move to sign a controversial agreement that outlined the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. A multiparty alliance then proposed Miodrag Lekić to serve as prime minister. President Milo Đukanović rejected the proposal and called for snap elections, a request in turn dismissed by the parliament.
  • Attempting to resolve the impasse, the parliament adopted controversial legislation that restricts presidential powers by enabling a majority of lawmakers to propose a prime minister if the president refuses to do so. The amendments were criticized as unconstitutional by domestic civil society groups, were met with disapproval by the European Union (EU) and US officials, and initiated a wave of protests. The deadlock can only be resolved by the Constitutional Court, which lacked a quorum at year’s end.
  • In August, the parliamentary majority granted independent municipality status to the Zeta region, which up to that point had been part of Podgorica, the capital. The move, which reduced the number of voters in Podgorica, changed electoral-district boundaries in the midst of local election campaigns and took place in the absence of meaningful consultation with the constituency.
  • In March, the state prosecutor’s council elected a new special state prosecutor who has prioritized high-level corruption and financial investigations, as well as improving public trust in the institution. Meanwhile, the Committee on Comprehensive Electoral Reform disbanded in June when its mandate ended, having made no progress.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. Though Đukanović refused to participate in public debates and some irregularities such as misuse of public resources were reported, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission stated that the polling was generally credible and that fundamental rights were respected. It also 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 bloc in the postelection coalition, for the position. Krivokapić’s government was approved that December.

Politics were in gridlock at the close of 2022, after two governments collapsed following no-confidence votes and lawmakers’ were then unable to form a new government or call snap elections. Krivokapić’s government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in February, initiated by deputy prime minister Dritan Abazović of the United Reform Action (URA) party. In April, a new government led by Abazović was approved, but it collapsed in August after the parliament approved another no-confidence motion initiated by the DPS; it was the shortest-serving government in the country’s history. A month later, the multiparty alliance that had wrested power from the DPS in the 2020 parliamentary elections proposed Miodrag Lekić as prime minister; Đukanović rejected the proposal, saying one of the parties in the alliance had not formally signed off on the nomination, and called for snap elections. His proposition was in turn rejected by the parliament.

To resolve the impasse, the parliament adopted controversial legislation that restricts presidential powers by enabling a majority of lawmakers to propose a prime minister-designate if the president refuses to do so. The amendments were deemed unconstitutional by local NGOs, severely criticized by the EU and by US officials, and prompted a wave of protests. The deadlock can only be resolved by the Constitutional Court, which lacked a quorum as of September 2022; a majority of 48 lawmakers—a number requiring broad consensus across parties—is required to elect new judges.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 posted 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 41-seat majority, a new alliance consisting of three coalitions—the Future of Montenegro (27 seats), Peace is Our Nation (10), and In Black and White (4)—gained power. 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. The election administration in some ways violated provisions of the constitution, including because the early election date was never harmonized with other legal obligations; pandemic-related restrictions on movement and assembly impeded campaign activities; and 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, as the DPS and its coalition partners gained undue advantage through the widespread misuse of state resources. 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.

In May 2022, the Abazović-led government passed amendments that delayed local elections in 14 municipalities until October, in the interest of holding the year’s remaining local elections on the same day. The Center for Democratic Transition, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), requested a review on grounds that the move violated national laws, as well as international standards for the organization of regularly scheduled elections. The Constitutional Court annulled the amendments in late July.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 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 is seriously flawed. In March 2021, a new Committee on Comprehensive Electoral Reform, comprised of all parliamentary parties, was formed and began to reform and improve the legal framework to ensure free and fair elections, taking into consideration recommendations of the OSCE and the European Commission (EC). The Democratic Montenegro (DM) party “froze” its membership in the committee in May 2022 over the adoption of amendments that postponed elections in 14 municipalities, and amid claims that opposition perspectives were being ignored. The committee’s mandate ended in June, having made no progress on electoral reform.

The Constitutional Court declared the legislative amendments regarding delaying municipal elections unconstitutional in July. In August, the new parliamentary majority amended separate legislation regulating the territorial organization of the country to grant independent municipality status to the Zeta region, which up to that point had been part of the capital. The move, which reduced the number of voters in Podgorica, changed electoral district boundaries in the midst of the electoral process and took place in the absence of meaningful consultation with the constituency.

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to lawmakers’ efforts to manipulate the electoral process during the year’s local election campaign period.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 3.003 4.004

Political parties are for the most part able to form and operate without direct interference.

Unlike the DPS regime, recent governments generally refrained from intimidating and delegitimizing opposition activity by equating it with threats to the state or to public order—though there have been occasional such accusations against various parties from both Đukanović and Abazović. Because of this calmer political environment, new opposition political groups are able to emerge, compete in local elections, and participate in the public sphere without being smeared as “enemies of the state.”

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 to focus efforts on criticizing the DPS, which proved to be a winning strategy. While the DPS showed significant strength in local election in Nikšić in 2021, losing the capital of Podgorica in 2022 reflected declining popular support.

Despite losing the Podgorica election, the DPS mayor remained in his post at year’s end. He had admitted defeat in October, but pointed as justification for remaining to election-related appeals the Constitutional Court could not decide because it lacked a quorum.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, the DPS has fostered extensive patronage networks in both public companies and private companies with links to the state, which encourage loyalty to the DPS. Many members of the DPS are believed to have ties to organized crime, which continues to provide opportunities for illicit pressure on voters and candidates.

Neither the Krivokapić nor Abazović governments put a stop to the practice of clientelism, undermining the planned depoliticization and professionalization of public administration and the creation of a proclaimed meritocratic system. The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro remains to be a powerful political actor. Its influence was reflected in the abrupt signing in August 2022 by Prime Minister Abazović and the SPC Patriarch of the fundamental agreement governing the church’s legality in Montenegro. Abazović’s decision to sign the agreement—which deals with issues including real estate, and had been criticized by rights groups and others for offering the church greater power than other religious communities—triggered the collapse of his government.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 the Romany language.

Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions and politics generally. Though the government formed in 2020 took steps to increase women’s participation, including through gender quotas on electoral lists, implementation remains uneven.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

Đukanović has wielded vast personalized power for decades through his tenure as 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. A controversial 2022 law sought to limit presidential powers by allowing the parliament to designate a prime minister if the president refused to do so.

The dependency of both the Krivokapić and Abazović governments on narrow majorities pushed them to be more responsive to lawmakers than their predecessors and enabled the parliament to be stronger in its oversight functions. In both instances, when the executive stopped delivering what it promised or was seen as misusing powers vested in it, it was ousted in a no-confidence vote.

In August 2022, a massive cyberattack was launched against the country. Disruptions to state and other infrastructure resulted from the attack, and as authorities temporarily deactivated communications services, information platforms, and other systems in response to it.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption and cronyism remain widespread. European Commission progress reports have consistently questioned the integrity, credibility, impartiality, independence, accountability, and priority-setting of the Anti-Corruption Agency, and state prosecutors have generally remained loyal to the DPS, affecting which cases they choose to pursue. Civil society organizations and independent media provide some accountability by reporting on official corruption and its effects.

In March 2022, the state prosecutor’s council elected a new special state prosecutor who has prioritized high-level corruption and financial investigations, as well as improving public trust in the institution. Arrests of officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals include the former president of the Supreme Court of Montenegro, Vesna Medenica; president of the Commercial Court of Montenegro, Blažo Jovanić; president of the board of directors of the state-owned company Plantaže, Veselin Vukotić, and its former chief executive, Verica Maraš; a National Security Agency officer and son of the most influential person in the agency during the DPS reign, Petar Lazović; and the former customs office head Rade Milosević, among others.

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because prosecutors have been more able to pursue corruption cases against government officials under recent administrations.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2.002 4.004

Government sessions are now live streamed online, offering public access to the proceedings—though since the initiative’s launch, politicians have been criticized for grandstanding rather engaging in constructive debate. Citizens still have few opportunities for meaningful participation in public consultations on legislation and policy reforms. Budget plans remain widely unavailable, as does information on government contracts.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

A variety of independent media operate in Montenegro, and media coverage is partisan and combative on certain issues. Unlike the DPS government, the Krivokapić government did not seek to pressure reporters. Abazović, on the other hand, brough back some of the DPS’s fiery rhetoric targeting critical journalists.

The state broadcaster, Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG), has made strides in transforming into a genuine public-service broadcaster, and features a more balanced editorial policy and more inclusive and diverse political content. Public opinion polls in 2022 showed increased public trust in RTCG, as well increased viewership.

The lack of external pressure during 2021 and 2022 made internal censorship within media houses and self-censorship among journalists less prominent. Reporters who cover corruption and organized crime still risk violence.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. However, during the final years of the DPS government, the SPC and its adherents were subject to discrimination and hate speech, and its clergy has been characterized by the DPS as enemies of the state.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, political controversies in past years have affected the ability of the rector of the University of Montenegro to operate independently.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

People are generally free to engage in public discussions. Neither the Krivokapić nor Abazović governments sought to silence dissenting voices by directing police to arrest social media users that post critical or satirical content. Individuals’ fear of retribution for expressing their opinions online has diminished, and open criticism of the parliamentary majority and the government has become more commonplace.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3.003 4.004

Citizens generally enjoy freedom of assembly. However, incidents of violence, excessive police force, or interference with demonstrations occasionally take place.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 faced pressure.

Both the Krivokapić and Abazović governments recognized civil society actors as strategic partners in crafting government reforms, though some civil society members have criticized their stated reform commitments as superficial. In a similar fashion to Đukanović, Abazović also accused some NGOs critical of his policies to be working against Montenegro.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 2.002 4.004

Efforts to bolster judicial independence continue, though the judiciary remains susceptible to pressure from the DPS, and judicial corruption remains a problem. In April 2022, the former president of the Supreme Court, Vesna Medenica, was arrested on charges of abuse of office and establishing a criminal organization.

However, the new special state prosecutor is faced with a plethora of backlog cases that his predecessor had refused to process. While prosecution has been freed from the DPS’s grip, selective justice remains a systemic problem. There are still serious deficiencies in transparency, openness, professionalism, and accountability in the judicial system.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 Democratic Front (DF) leaders, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, who were charged with plotting a 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. In February 2021, an appeals court overturned the convictions of and ordered a retrial for 13 suspects accused of plotting the coup, including Mandić and Knežević, citing procedural mistakes and violations of criminal law. A retrial began in November 2022.

In late 2022, the parliamentary majority failed to elect judges to the Constitutional Court and new members of the Judicial Council from the ranks of distinguished lawyers, contributing to an institutional crisis.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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 for the general population, 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 with impunity.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, as well as LGBT+ people, face discrimination. Women in Montenegro are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but patriarchal social norms often limit their salary levels, as well as their educational opportunities.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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, despite the fall of the DPS government, jobs in the public sector are often awarded through patronage networks, limiting access for those without connections.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. The first same-sex civil partnership was registered in July 2021.

Domestic violence is an increasingly severe problem.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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. In January 2022, the Europe Now program started. It introduced a progressive tax rate and increased the minimum wage from €250 to €450 ($260 to $470). The program seeks to improve living standards and reduce the prominence of the illegal economy.

Human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor remains a problem.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    67 100 partly free