Montenegro votes in presidential election
Montenegrins voted in a presidential election on Sunday that will affect the outcome of a parliamentary vote in June, as well as the small Adriatic country’s stance toward the West and relations with neighboring Serbia.
Montenegro, a NATO member, and European Union candidate, opened polling stations at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) and will close at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT). The first unofficial pollster results based on a sample of the electorate are expected in about two hours.
If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in a second round of voting on April 2.
Milo Djukanovic, the country’s current pro-Western president, has held top political positions for 33 years and is seeking another five-year term.
“This (election) is a chance for Montenegro to confirm it can live in political and social stability, … and continue (on a path)… to be a part of united countries of Europe,” Djukanovic told reporters after voting.
His main opponents are Andrija Mandic, the head of the Democratic Front which favours closer ties with Serbia and Russia, and Jakov Milatovic, a pro-Western economist and the deputy head of the Europe Now movement.
After casting his ballot Mandic told reporters that if he won, his presidency would create “a policy of reconciliation focused on all citizens and which will be waging a strong fight against corruption and organized crime”.
Opponents accuse Djukanovic and his left-centrist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption, links to organized crime, and of running the country of some 620,000 people as their personal fiefdom – charges Djukanovic and his party deny.
“I am sure, the people have decided to vote for a richer, more just, and more beautiful Montenegro,” Milatovic said after voting.
Sunday’s vote comes amid a year-long political crisis marked by no-confidence votes in two separate governments and a row between lawmakers and Djukanovic over the president’s refusal to name a new prime minister.
On Thursday Djukanovic dissolved the parliament and scheduled snap elections for June 11. A victory in the presidential election would bolster the chances of the winner’s party in the parliamentary vote.
“I am expecting people …. we will start to go forward for a better life,” said Mirjana Aleksic, 53, from Podgorica after casting her ballot at a polling station in a local school.
Over the years, Montenegro has been divided between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who see themselves as Serbs and opposed the country’s 2006 independence from a former union with neighbouring and much larger Serbia.
The country, which mainly relies on revenues from its Adriatic tourism, joined NATO in 2017, following a botched coup attempt a year earlier that the government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such claims as absurd.
Following the invasion of Ukraine last year, Montenegro joined EU sanctions against Russia. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.