Montenegro’s presidential election is coming up this weekend. While Montenegro is the smallest country in our patch with an electorate of under 550,000 people, its upcoming election is a miniature version of what’s going on across many countries in the wider region.
The election has come down to a three-way contest between incumbent President Milo Djukanovic, who represents the old guard, having been involved in politics since the socialist era and in power for most of the last three decades; political newbie Jakov Milatovic, like Djukanovic, is pro-Western but the fresh take on politics from his Europe Now Party is proving a welcome change to Montenegrins fed up with Djukanovic’s DPS; then there is the pro-Russian candidate Andrija Mandic.
The battle for the presidency is shaping up to be a rather dirty one. Europe Now’s original presidential candidate was disqualified. Milatovic was physically attacked during a recent campaign trip to the town of Cetinje, and a group of people tried to prevent him meeting supporters in Niksic. Milatovic’s camp blames the DPS, but Djukanovic’s party has denied the accusations.
Meanwhile, Mandic’s Democratic Front has form, as he and other party leaders were found guilty of being part of an alleged coup plot masterminded by Russian GRU agents and including Serb and Russian paramilitaries. The sentences of Mandic and other DF leaders were overturned when a new government, backed by the DF, came to power in Podgorica in 2020, and it’s unclear what actually happened back in 2016. However, observers including US envoy Gabriel Escobar have warned of the potential for Russian interference in this latest election.
In a related development, Djukanovic dissolved the parliament yesterday, as none of the parties managed to put together a ruling majority, so Montenegro will be holding a general election this spring as well.
The next election to come up in the region after Montenegro’s presidential vote is Bulgaria’s latest general election – the fifth in two years as votes have repeatedly failed to produce a stable majority.
Rather like in Montenegro, Bulgaria’s current political groupings broadly divide into reformist pro-Western, old-guard pro-Western and pro-Russian – with a growing far-right contingent in the mix as well.
Recent polls show the reformist Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) coalition and populist Gerb, led by three-times former prime minister Boyko Borissov, are neck and neck.
We have an interesting story on the site today in which caretaker Finance Minister Rositsa Velkova denies reports that the country is hovering on the edge of bankruptcy. Velkova was forced to clarify the situation after a report – prepared by her ministry – appeared to indicate exactly that. There’s speculation that the document was leaked to give an impression of instability and give Gerb the chance to present itself as a safe pair of hands ready to take over the nation’s finances after the election.
Finally we have been covering in our PRO section the struggles of Albania’s main opposition party to get itself registered for the local elections in May. The Democratic Party has been in disarray since it lost its third consecutive general election in April 2021, prompting its former leader Sali Berisha to launch a campaign to retake control of the party and oust its leader, Lulzim Basha.
Berisha was successful as he secured overwhelming backing from rank and file Democratic Party members. However, following the bitter leadership battle between the two – which included a violent attempt by Berisha’s supporters to storm the party headquarters – it seems that Basha never formally handed over control of the party to Berisha. The party’s parliamentary group, led by Enkelejd Alibeaj, also declined to recognise Berisha as their leader. This is now the subject of a long drawn out court battle.
This came to a head as the deadline to register for the local elections approached, with both Berisha and Alibeaj seeking to register the party. The CEC initially turned them both down, then allowed Alibeaj’s faction to register following an appeal. Berisha, meanwhile, is planning to form a separate coalition with former president Ilir Meta’s Freedom Party and some other small parties.
All this means the ruling Socialist Party will quite likely sweep the board again in the local elections – just as it did four years ago when opposition parties boycotted the vote. With the Socialists now in an unprecedented third consecutive term in power, the absence of an effective opposition is worrying.
I also want to draw your attention to an interview our Ukraine correspondent Dominic Culverwell did with a mine action specialist for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Aleksandr Lobov, who is involved in the demining campaign around the de-occupied Kyiv region. According to Lobov, following eight years of fighting in the east of the country and a year of all-out war, Ukraine is the most mine-contaminated country on earth. As well as the danger to its population, this is also a danger to the economy, with mines on agricultural land, close to power lines and in mineral deposits.
Russia’s tech sector adapts
The NASDAQ Stock Exchange has just announced that it will delist Russian internet major Yandex, classifieds portal Cian, top three e-commerce major Ozon Holdings, e-payment operator Qiwi and online recruitment platform HeadHunter (HHR), more than a year after trading in all the names was suspended. But Russia’s tech sector continues to adapt to its international isolation. At the same time as the news of the NASDAQ delistings, we report that the “Russian Instagram” – local social media site RosGram – has launched a search for private investors promising a yield of 850-950% over three years. Meanwhile, mobile major MTS has joined the race to create a "Russian YouTube” in a bid to attract some of the domestic YouTube and TikTok audience.