Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gegaj rebukes Tuzi Municipality

Podgorica, Montenegro -- Saturday, June 27, 2010

Newly appointed Mayor of Tuzi, Nikolle Gegaj, Saturday ordered that the status on the independent municipality of Tuzi needs no discussion at this time because it is not economically feasible to achieve this objective given the urban municipal budget, a message that resonates the exact words spoken by Minority Minister Ferhat Dinosha and Premier Milo Djukanovic in previous months.

"Like serious-minded people, we think that a fully functional municipality is one that is best served under the budget capacity of the capital - Podgorica." Gegaj went on to say that, "when you see that a municipality can operate alone, we [DPS] will be the first to commit to an independent municipality, but to such an extent that it must also operate under direct control of Podgorica, as this is our city."

Such remarks reaffirm Podgorica's mandate to stifle any economic progression in the Malesia region by diverting tax dollars first to the capital city, and then dispersing unproportional amounts back to Tuzi. Evidence of these tactic were made clear during a recent visit to Washington by a Diaspora-led team that, through a published feasibility study overwhelming showed that Tuzi was more economically stable than six existing municipalities in Montenegro.

Commenting on the organization of the referendum decision on 8 August, which approved the previous edition of the Tuzi municipality, Gegaj remarked that such a decision was arbitrary in terms of legal basis, and that "the Statute of the capital is defined by the Capital Assembly, which declares the referendum for all its territory, or parts of it."

Gegaj went on to further assert that, "on the decision of the statutory limits of the municipality, the Urban Municipal Assembly of Tuzi is not competent to issue any decisions on its own, instead these deliberations must take form within the competence of the capital city. Opposition members vehemently rebuked this claim, stating that the rules embedded in the statute disallow and serious decision-making authority by members of the Assembly of Tuzi, and as such all decisions on the welfare of Tuzi over the past four years were made null and void by Podgorica, a heavy-handed tactic that literally makes it impossible to carry out politics tied to economic proliferation.

As in previous campaign promises, Gegaj argued that in the coming four-year mandate the DPS coalition will not abandon the will of the citizens of Tuzi for a municipality - "Our goals are genuine; promises that we gave to the citizens during our election campaign within the coalition of "For a European Tuzi", we will deliver."

But such remarks seem shallow, as Gegaj provided to real plan to achieve municipal status in Malesia that would exhibit economic stability and sustenance. What stands alone in his interview is the persistence that any Tuzi municipality will be established by a pre-determined organization designed in Podgorica, and not one that would fully integrate the needs of the local population.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Djukanovic Meets with EU Officials in Brussels

BRUSSELS, JUNE 10, 2010 -- European Union officials have praised Montenegro’s progress on its path to the EU, but insisted on the importance of increased reforms in the rule-of-law and the fight against organised crime and corruption.

The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, stressed that Montenegro has to make more progress in key areas, especially in the rule of law.

“One area we can now identify and where attention is needed is strengthening of rule of law, including establishing a clear track record on the fight against corruption and organised crime and pursuit of judicial reform,” Barroso said.

Barroso made his remarks after meeting with Montenengrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who is in Brussels this week for discussions with top EU officials. On Wednesday he met with Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and today he is scheduled to meet with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, and European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele.

Van Rompuy praised the role of Montenegro in regional cooperation and inter-ethnic dialogue, but echoed Barroso in calling for strengthening of the rule of law.

“Sustainable progress in the fields related to the rule of law, such as judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime remain of outmost importance for us,” Van Rompuy explained. “There are no shortcuts and the remaining challenges must not be underestimated,” he added.

At a press conference following the meetings yesterday, Djukanovic emphasized his government's goals, namely to receive a positive opinion from the European Commission on its membership application and a recommendation for the start of accession talks.

“We believe that all conditions will be met for Montenegro to get candidacy status by the end of this year, along with the date for the start of accession talks,” Djukanovic said.

“These are our expectations and we believe that they are not unrealistic, but of course the final decision lies in the European Commission and European Council”, he added.

Montenegro submitted its application for EU membership in December 2008, and the European Commission is in the process of preparing its opinion on the country's application. A positive opinion on Montenegro's readiness to join the EU will pave the way for the launching of membership talks between Brussels and Podgorica.

Djukanovic’s visit to Brussels is his first since the country's Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union entered into force on May 1 this year. Montenegro will now take part in the so-called Stabilization and Association Council. The first meeting in this format will be held at the ministerial level next week in Luxembourg.

Source -- BIRN

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Local elections may herald a period of flux in Montenegro

While Djukanovic’s ruling party has claimed victory, the opposition seems likely to be galvanised by their relatively strong showing in the capital and elsewhere.

Kenneth Morrison

The results of Montenegro’s municipal elections, held on 23 May, appear to demonstrate that the country’s politics continues to follow a familiar script. Montenegro, after all, has not seen a change of government, at least not through the mechanism of democratic elections, since the first democratic elections took place there in 1990.

But we may be entering a sustained period of flux. While the seemingly resounding election victory of the “Coalition for a European Montenegro”, led by the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, may on a superficial level seem convincing, these results may be obscuring the bigger picture and overshadowing the developing political climate in Montenegro.

The leadership of the DPS are well aware that while they can claim a convincing victory there will also be discomfort about what these results convey in terms of the direction of Montenegrin politics.

The elections took place in a difficult political and economic context for the government. A stuttering economy, worsening industrial strife and a growing sense of political uncertainty characterised the campaign environment.

Increasingly nervous about the momentum of the opposition, the government called the municipal elections for 23 May against the wishes of the opposition who wanted the elections held on 6 June.

The latter’s objection was simply that the government would use the coincidence of the election campaign with the fourth anniversary of Montenegrin independence to subtly remind the electorate of the DPS’s key role in delivering independence in 2006.

And indeed, the leadership of the DPS-led coalition, which included the Liberal Party, LP, and the Bosniak Party, BS, did just that. The rhetorical cornerstone of the “Coalition for a European Montenegro” was safety in continuity. The inexperienced, and “anti-Montenegrin” united opposition, they argued, could not be trusted to govern at any level in these tough economic times.

As is standard in Montenegrin politics, personal attacks were commonplace. The DPS-led coalition sought to undermine their opponents, particularly Nebojsa Medojevic. He was cast as an ambitious charlatan, concerned primarily with his own desire for power – a man who would “jump into bed” with any political partner who would assist him in this quest.

Such attacks were not merely limited to opposition politicians. On the eve of the elections, the Montenegrin Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, made controversial allegations that his Serbian counterpart, Boris Tadic, was meddling in Montenegro’s domestic affairs. Djukanovic alleged that one of Tadic’s closest advisors had been tasked with providing financial and logistical assistance to the opposition, with a view, in Djukanovic’s words, to “reversing Montenegro’s independence”.

The “Better Montenegro” coalition, consisting of 12 parties, but led by the Movement for Changes, PzP, New Serbian Democracy, NOVA, and Socialist People’s Party, SNP, contested the elections following months of negotiations among a previously fractious opposition.

The coalition was a broad front comprised of opposition parties, but supported by NGOs and other non-governmental structures. With little to unite them but their almost pathological hatred of the ruling elite, they had to emphasise their commonalities, whilst playing down clear differences. Thus, they went to significant lengths to highlight the ineptitude of the government in managing the country’s economic affairs, their alleged lack of strategy for mitigating the effects of the economic crisis and inefficiency of state institutions in the fight against organised crime.

While the term “change” was omnipresent, Medojevic, adorned in his now-characteristic white shirt with rolled-up sleeves a-la-Obama, stuck to traditional rhetoric, speaking at length about the alleged links between organised criminals and the Montenegrin government. In addition to his regular accusations that Djukanovic was an instrumental player in the cigarette smuggling trade in the 1990s, he recently alleged that the Saric brothers (one of whom, Darko, is wanted by Interpol and the Serbian government on drug trafficking charges) had funded the DPS’s local election campaign in Zabljak in August 2009. These public pronouncements represented a risky gambit for Medojevic, as it remains unclear whether his actions attracted or repelled voters.

Holistically the opposition coalition has utilised a blend of both positive and negative campaigning. This strategy proved quite effective, and the results show that there may well be a strong enough alternative to DPS dominance. Yet, despite the consolidation of the opposition, the DPS seem for the time being to have weathered the storm.

The party has claimed victory in seven of Montenegro’s 14 municipalities, including the traditional opposition strongholds of Andrijevica, Kolasin and Zabljak. They claim to have increased their overall share of the vote. The opposition, who on the eve of the election had predicted a “landslide” in their favour, claimed victory in Pljevlja and the SNP, who ran independently in some municipalities, did so in Pluzine.

So, DPS dominance seems assured – but is it? The opposition can draw encouragement from the fact that the presence of a strong opposition coalition stopped the DPS from acquiring an absolute majority in the capital, Podgorica. No party won an absolute majority there and accusations and recriminations began soon after. Medojevic claimed that in the absence of international observers there were “numerous irregularities” during voting in the city and that some voters (their supporters) had been inexplicably removed from the electoral register or had been requested to vote at different polling stations to those which were registered.

In the final analysis, however, it will be the Social Democratic Party, SDP, who decide which bloc will enjoy a majority. Their leaders were reluctant to confirm with whom they would enter a coalition, but it is likely that they will enter into an agreement with the DPS, their coalition partner at state level. Given their position as kingmaker in Podgorica, they may seek to extract significant concessions from Montenegro’s largest party. They may seek the election of a new Mayor of Podgorica when Miomir Mugosa’s tenure expires, although this may be unpalatable for the DPS leadership.

So what do these results tell us about the state of Montenegrin politics? That a united opposition was formed and contested the elections is a sign that it is possible to forge a viable opposition. The opposition coalition, despite obvious differences between component parties, has proved surprisingly resilient. Whether this momentum can be maintained to facilitate a similar campaign at national level remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the opposition coalition will be galvanised by the results and seek to build upon their success in national elections.

Within the DPS, change is also inevitable. Djukanovic announced in March that he would formally retire, although he stopped short of giving a specific timeframe for his withdrawal. He stressed that he wanted to retire in order to pursue his private business interests and denied that his decision had been influenced by international pressure. Who his successor will be remains a matter of heated debate within the party, and the source of possible divisions.

Change, or at least a recalibration of the Montenegrin political scene, is inevitable – be it through an intra-DPS struggle and subsequent realignment, or via the mechanism of democratic elections. Regardless of this, the fundamental problem is that the DPS controls many aspects of Montenegrin society, and changing this will require a complete change in the political culture. Reconfiguring the structure of power is the greatest challenge and the most significant inhibiting factor in achieving genuine change. What form change will take, how or when it will happen, remains to be seen. But whatever form it may take, Montenegro needs it.

Kenneth Morrison is a Senior Lecturer in Modern East European History at De Montfort University and is the author of ‘Montenegro: A Modern History’, IB Tauris, 2009