Montenegrins choose new president amid political turmoil

Montenegrins are casting ballots in a runoff presidential election that is a battle between a long-serving pro-Western incumbent and a newcomer promising changes in the small NATO member state in Europe locked in political turmoil

Predrag Milic
Sunday 02 April 2023 06:22 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Montenegrins are casting ballots on Sunday in a runoff presidential election that is a battle between a long-serving pro-Western incumbent and a newcomer promising changes in the small NATO member state in Europe that has been locked in political turmoil.

Observers say that President Milo Djukanovic, who is credited with leading Montenegro to independence and into NATO, could be facing defeat from the economist Jakov Milatovic, the candidate backed by governing parties advocating closer ties with Serbia.

The runoff vote on Sunday is being held after none of the contenders won majority support in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Some 540,000 people are eligible to vote in Montenegro, a country of 620,000 located in the Balkan peninsula and by the Adriatic Sea.

The winner of Sunday's vote could also reflect on the upcoming early parliamentary election on June 11. That vote was scheduled because of months-long government deadlock that stalled European Union integration and alarmed the West as war rages in Ukraine.

Djukanovic, 61, first became prime minister at 29 and has stayed in power for the past 32 years — longer than his Democratic Party of Socialists, which was ousted in a 2020 parliamentary election.

Djukanovic has been a key Western ally in countering Russian influence and keeping the Balkans stable. He has insisted that the struggle is not over despite Montenegro's NATO membership because of Serbia's alleged expansionist policies and Russia's influence.

Milatovic, who is 36 and was educated in Britain and the United States, has appealed to voters disillusioned with established politicians like Djukanovic. Milatovic has insisted that he wants Montenegro to join the EU although some of the parties that backed his candidacy are pro-Russian.

If Milatovic wins, his Europe Now movement could find itself in a position to dominate the next government after the snap vote in June. Djukanovic has hoped that his re-election for another five-year term would pave the way for his DPS to also return to power in June.

Milatovic’s Europe Now emerged after the first government that resulted from the 2020 parliamentary elections collapsed. As the economy minister in that government, Milatovic gained popularity by increasing salaries but critics say this was done at the cost of the already depleted health system and not as an outcome of reform.

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