The Central Election Commission of Montenegro published a final list of registered candidates on March 28. While 7 candidates were admitted, only two can count on voter support.
According to a poll conducted by the Montenegrin Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM), the two undisputed favorites of the race are the candidate from the ruling Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), ex-president and former Prime Minister Milo Đukanović and the leader of Montenegrin opposition, ex-MP Mladen Bojanić.
The third most popular is Draginja Vuksanović, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro and the first woman to be the presidential candidate in the history of the country. The remaining candidates will gain no more than 3% of the vote, according to CEDEM.
The huge gap in the popularity of candidates is a consequence of the fact that Đukanović has held various government posts since 1991, while Bojanić has supported at once five opposition parties, which together hold 33 seats in the Skupshchina (unicameral parliament of the republic).
In 1991 Đukanović became prime minister for the first time, and in 1998 – president. However, at that time Montenegro was not yet an independent republic and was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, together with Serbia.
Đukanović became prime minister six more times, until his resignation in November 2016. Since 2000, the economy of Montenegro has demonstrated a fourfold increase, and the Đukanović party has worked for the country’s EU and NATO accession.
At the same time, the statements of the veteran politician to Russia did nothing to improve relations between Moscow and Podgorica. In March 2017, the former prime minister accused Russia of “destructive influence” on the situation in the region and said that Moscow was threatening “the very existence of the European Union”.
In May of the same year, the acting Prime Minister of Montenegro, Duško Marković and Milo Đukanović, were banned from entering the Russian Federation. Politicians were included in the sanctions list introduced in response to the unilateral Montenegrin anti-Russian sanctions. In June Montenegro officially became the 29th member of NATO.
It is noteworthy that in one of his interviews Đukanović said: “I owe nothing to anyone – neither to the West, nor to the East.”
Mladen Bojanić is often called a pro-Serbian and pro-Russian candidate by the local media. At the very least, the largest opposition party in Montenegro, which supported Bojanić, is an ardent opponent of the country’s membership in NATO and the Western countries’ sanctions against Russia.
Bojanić often spoke in parliament with harsh criticism of NATO and said that the country’s entry into the military bloc could “jeopardize stability in Montenegro,” and Montenegrins should never forget the “1999 NATO bombing victims”.
It is significant that the data of the same March poll of CEDEM indicate a decrease in NATO support among Montenegrins. Moreover, the share of opponents of membership in the military bloc (47%) for the first time since the summer of 2017 exceeded the share of supporters (45%).
At the same time, Montenegrins believe that the republic should focus most of its foreign policy on the EU (49.4%), then on Russia (30.3%). The USA is in the last place (25%).
According to the Balkan Insight portal, opposition parties supported Bojanić’s candidacy “at the last moment” and not everyone want his victory.
At the same time, according to the president of the Society of Russian-Serbian-Montenegrin Friendship Lyubomir Radinovich, it is Bojanić who “wants to reconcile the two factions of the Montenegrin politics – the West supporters and the patriots.”