No Limit to Extra Time in Montenegrin Political Football

Dusica Pavlovic

If only Montenegrin politics were as clear-cut as football.

Opposition leader Andrija Mandic of the New Serb Democracy is seen standing in front of a line of Montenegrin riot police officers during anti-government protests in the capital Podgorica, Montenegro, October 2015. Photo: EPA/BORIS PEJOVIC

As Montenegrins glued their eyes to TV screens to watch neighbouring Croatia take on France in the World Cup final, many may have savoured the simplicity of it all. At the final whistle, there was a winner and a loser. Tournament football tolerates no unfinished business.

How different from the stop-start, inconclusive business of Montenegrin politics, where it often feels as though rules are made up on the fly and games stretch indefinitely into extra time.

Take the state of play in parliament, which has been paralysed since October 2016 when opposition parties began a collective boycott after elections that opponents of the government claimed were fraudulent.

Some parties, including Montenegro’s strongest opposition alliance, have recently returned from the sidelines. Nevertheless, the impasse continues to stymy matters of state, particularly when it comes to key legislation requiring a two-thirds majority, unattainable without opposition votes.

The consequences are not trivial. Parliament needs to choose members of the Judicial Council, which, among other things, appoints judges and oversees their work. The process for choosing members is defined by the constitution and requires two-thirds of lawmakers’ votes.

With some opposition parties still off the pitch due to the boycott, the government has tried to break the deadlock by declaring a temporary solution: current members of the council should remain in position until the parliamentary crisis is resolved.

Never mind that this contravenes the constitution. In tearing up the rulebook, the ruling majority has provoked plenty of public debate. Time will tell if the move was really necessary, but an old saying springs to mind: “In a democracy, temporary solutions last forever.”

Meanwhile, other unfinished business plods on in the shadow of summer sports – not least the trial of alleged Serbian and Russian nationalists accused of plotting to assassinate Montenegro’s prime minister and bring to power a pro-Russian party back in October 2016.

The alleged election-day coup plot has dominated the political landscape and it is no surprise that the trial has turned out to be long, complex and divisive.

At the same time, the trial is taking up most of the resources of the special prosecutor’s office, making it harder for prosecutors to pursue a catalogue of organised crime and corruption cases that many see as essential to Montenegro’s development as a democratic society.

 One such case involves businessmen with close ties to the ruling party who are accused of corruption during privatisation of Montenegro’s state-owned telecommunications company in 2005.

According to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, officials and executives took bribes from foreign buyers seeking to snap up Montenegro’s Telekom company on favourable terms.

The higher court in Podgorica is due to decide whether to proceed with the trial of two former Telekom directors suspected of lining their pockets with millions of euro during the sale. The public has been waiting for almost a decade for the wheels of justice to begin turning.

In football, if the clock runs down without a clear result, everyone knows a penalty shootout will determines the winner. In Montenegrin politics, there is a depressing sense that the games can go on without penalties ever being imposed.

Dusica Pavlovic is a Montenegrin journalist in the investigative department of public broadcaster RTCG.

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Dusica Pavlovic

Dusica Pavlovic is a Montenegrin journalist in the investigative department of public broadcaster RTCG.