Future government’s political and reform actions

From the parliamentary elections onwards, the distribution of political forces and the way of functioning of the parliamentary majority and the executive branch have uncovered a major deficit of political knowledge and strength to finally get out of the political crisis and a lack of ability to solve complex issues that substantially hinder reform processes in Montenegro. More specifically, an opportunity to implement the necessary reform policies has been missed, and discontinuation of the poorly managed policies of the former government was not the main priority of political elites. The previous practice has continued, as the government and the opposition are still unable to resolve important political issues through dialogue and secure more political support for those solutions.

As time went by, the key political actors have become aware of these shortcomings, and several scenarios or ways for resolving the current situation have emerged on the political scene. Whether the arrangement entails a new agreement between the existing parliamentary majority, part of the opposition joining the current majority, or establishing a different parliamentary majority altogether, and if some of these options result in a minority, “majority”, “political”, “expert”, concentration government or in case of calling of early parliamentary elections – the key tasks of the new government are quite obvious to anyone who believes in democratic values and wants to improve the current situation.

The Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) believes that this specific political moment and relations between political actors call for constructive suggestions from all social stakeholders so as to help find a way out of the current position. As an organization whose portfolio covers the majority of the challenges that burden the current political moment, we wish to present our view of the most important political moves of the future government to the public and key political stakeholders:

The newly formed political majority and the executive branch should transparently define the postulates of their political action, prepare a new political agreement in a procedure that is inclusive, specify and announce the duration of the arrangement and its key political principles and goals. Special attention should be paid to setting up principles and goals that are realistic and feasible in a given time frame.

The political majority and the executive branch must remain true to the fundamental constitutional principles of a civil state run by rule of law, respect for human rights, separation of church and state and a clear balance of power between institutions, and invest vigorous efforts to prevent any breach of these postulates.

First of all, the new government needs to redefine the relations between the parliament and the government, and ensure that it reflects both the written and unwritten rules that govern the functioning of democratic institutions. Cooperation, seeking ways to meet common goals, democratic control of the executive branch, as well as striking a balance of power between institutions and increasing the transparency of their work must be promoted in public discourse and political practice, but also defined in laws on parliamentary and executive power that the new majority needs to draft and adopt as a matter of urgency.

One of the first steps would be for the political majority to politically define and for the government to formally adopt the first-ever strategy that sets out the foreign policy direction of Montenegro. The priorities of this strategy should be building better relations with all countries in the region, joining the European Union (EU) and adhering to its key foreign policy postulates, and improving Euro-Atlantic cooperation through NATO. After several decades, this would finally mean breaking away from the concept of intuitive diplomacy and formally reinforcing the country’s foreign policy priorities.

The coalition agreement of the new government should proclaim the need for finally striking a political compromise towards a better and more fair environment for conducting a fair and democratic election process. This primarily refers to the need to depoliticize the election administration, improve the accuracy of the electoral roll and the affiliated records and registers, introduce open lists, strengthen democratic control over political party financing, and protect electoral integrity from influences coming outside of Montenegro.

One of key decisions that would benefit the democratic environment is the adoption of a media strategy, amendments to media laws and finally creating a much better environment for strengthening independence, professionalism and sustainability of media so as to be better able to act in the public interest. In addition to this, it is very important to stand against the spread of hatred, manipulation and undermining of democracy in the media through considerable improvement of the capacity of the regulatory agency and its independence.

Creating the necessary qualified majority that will intensify the fight against corruption, start the process of restoring legal certainty and ensure a more efficient functioning of the judiciary, but also significantly improve the dynamic of EU integration. One of the first moves of the new government should be the election of the Supreme State Prosecutor, members of the Judicial Council, and the election of judges of the Constitutional Court, as the essential precondition for delivering quality in the fight against corruption or achieving true progress in the EU integration process. In addition to this, the adoption of the Law on the Origin of Property would be a strong impetus and a new energy in preventing corruption and punishing all those who engaged or intend to engage in illicit enrichment.

Any majority that genuinely wants to be reformist, progressive and European will be facing a difficult task and an inconvenience of breaking off previous practices – in order to create an efficient, professional and depoliticized public administration of optimal size and governed by principles of transparent and merit-based recruitment and promotion. This requires setting up new control mechanisms over hirings in the administration, which will guarantee that the best candidates get selected. Principles based on professional, impartial and meritorious criteria, rather than affiliation with political parties or religious communities, must also be introduced and observed when deciding on political appointments.

A particularly important challenge for the newly formed government is to monitor the effects of the “Europe Now“ program. Since this is a reform that has a high risk of failing, special teams need to be set up to conduct quarterly reviews of its financial effects ie its implications for the state budget and economy, as well as its feasibility and the fairness of the entire concept. If any deviations from the original idea or promises made to citizens are uncovered, the new government must react urgently by adopting corrective measures and mechanisms.

The announced continuation of construction of the Bar-Boljare highway and the start of construction of the Adriatic-Ionian highway will be a major challenge for the new government. It is therefore important to discontinue the malignant practices of embarking on major projects by “making deals” with creditors and investors and dodging competitive tendering and public procurement procedures. Interstate agreements are no longer to be used as a means of circumventing the laws of our country, which guarantee transparency and competitiveness at least to some extent, as was the case with the highway construction deal made with China.

The new government needs to develop a detailed analysis of the impact of the Covid crisis on the Montenegrin economy through an inclusive process and prepare a set of recommendations with a focus on recovery that rests on a surge of domestic and foreign investment activity.

CDT Executive Director

Dragan Koprivica