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While numerous political parties compete for power in Montenegro, the opposition is fragmented, and the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has been in power since 1991. Corruption is a serious issue. Investigative journalists and journalists critical of the government face pressure.
- A number of irregularities were reported during October’s parliamentary polls, including alleged vote-buying by the governing DPS and an election-day shutdown of mobile messaging services. The opposition called the polls fraudulent and subsequently boycotted the parliament.
- The DPS won the most seats in the elections, and formed a government with the support of smaller parties. Duško Marković became prime minister, replacing longtime leader Milo Đukanović.
- On election day, authorities announced that 20 people had been arrested for allegedly plotting a coup, which reportedly involved a planned assassination attempt on Đukanović. Đukanović accused the opposition Democratic Front (DF) of involvement with the suspected coup planners, while the DF claimed that Đukanović manufactured the controversy to create an advantage for the DPS in the elections.
- Jovo Martinović, an investigative reporter detained in late 2015 on charges of drug trafficking, remained in custody at year’s end.
Prime Minister Milo Đukanović has served as either prime minister or president for most of the last two decades, and wields great influence in Montenegro. He framed the October 2016 parliamentary election as a choice between his administration, which had pursued membership to the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and opposition parties he decried as seeking to turn the country into a “Russian colony,” even as some opposition parties also supported NATO membership. His DPS posted the strongest performance in the polls, taking 36 seats in the 81-seat parliament—5 seats short of a governing majority. The DF, the main opposition party, took 18 seats. After several weeks of coalition talks, the DPS formed a government with several smaller parties that won representation, and the parliament then confirmed Duško Marković as the new prime minister in November. Marković was considered an ally of Đukanović, who as DPS chairman was expected to retain influence in the government.
Alleging electoral fraud, the opposition rejected the polls’ results, and boycotted the parliament throughout the rest of the year. While election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) ultimately assessed the polls as credible, numerous violations were reported, and the EU days after the election issued a statement of concern in which it called for fraud claims to be investigated. The Montenegro-based NGO MANS accused the Montenegrin government of trading tax or debt relief for votes, estimating that the DPS could have effectively bought as many as six legislative seats through such efforts. The government also suspended mobile messaging applications including Viber and WhatsApp on election day, citing “illegal marketing” taking place on the platforms.
Additionally, on the day of the election, the Montenegrin government arrested 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens on charges of plotting a coup; the group’s plans allegedly included breaking into the parliament, attacking police, and assassinating Đukanović. A few suspects were subsequently released but others remained in detention at year’s end, including figures described as Russian nationalists who had fought alongside pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Đukanović publicly accused the DF of plotting the alleged coup, but offered no evidence for his claims; the DF in turn accused Đukanović of manufacturing the events as a means of securing support for the DPS in the elections. Later in the year, Montenegrin authorities issued arrest warrants for two Russian and three Serbian citizens on charges of leading the alleged coup.
Journalist Jovo Martinović, known for his coverage of organized crime, was detained in late 2015, and in April 2016 was charged with involvement in a drug smuggling operation he had been investigating. He remained in detention at year’s end, and argues that his contact with members of the smuggling operation fell within his work as a journalist.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Montenegro, see Freedom in the World 2016.