The election results in Montenegro are of regional significance, but it remains to be seen whether they will be just a brief signal rather than a substantial change. On the other hand, there is no breakthrough in sight in the case of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština
Despite renewed activity in the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, the Washington summit was hardly a breakthrough and the dialogue in Brussels is progressing only slowly. Thus, there is no breakthrough in sight. This is no surprise, considering the challenges to the dialogue. First, the government in Kosovo is weak and unpopular and, second, it is not clear that the Serbian side is eager to tackle the difficult issue of normalising relations fully any time soon.
In this sense, the recent meetings suggest that there is a regular exchange and dialogue, but the atmosphere is still tense and each side interprets the results very differently. It appears that the timing is not yet ripe for a decisive leap in the dialogue, as both parties are suffering from the inability to secure a broad, cross-party consensus on an agreement and lack the resolve to tackle difficult issues. On the other hand, the two parallel negotiations, led respectively by the EU and the U.S., do not ease the framework, and having a clear, unified dialogue framework, with common messages from the EU and the U.S., would be essential in securing a lasting settlement.
In the case of the Belgrade-Priština dialogue having a clear, unified dialogue framework, with common messages from the EU and U.S., would be essential in securing a lasting settlement
In this sense, the elections in Montenegro are more significant. Not only has it ended the 30-year majority of the ruling party and its allies, it has also challenged authoritarianism at the ballot box. This sends a strong signal for the region that autocrats who operate in a formally democratic system can be outvoted in elections, even if the elections themselves are not fair. The success of the opposition in Montenegro was possible because there are viable independent media in Montenegro and the opposition, while divided, ran in three clear coalitions.
The elections were also galvanised by the Law on Religion, which turned out to be a miscalculation of the government. Whether or not these elections will have broader regional ramifications will also depend on the ability of the opposition to work together and deal with the major challenges of state capture and clientelism. There will be temptations to follow the same pattern as the ruling party, and with an ideologically fractious opposition there is always a chance that a transfer of power might be short-lived. In addition, the challenge will be to keep key international commitments, such as EU integration, NATO membership and a clear pro-Western position in place – not just formally, but also in practise. In short, the election results are of regional significance, but it remains to be seen whether they will be just a brief signal rather than a substantial change.