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Montenegro’s longtime president seeks re-election

PODGORICA, Montenegro — Voters in Montenegro cast their ballots on Sunday in a presidential election marred by political turmoil and uncertainty over whether the small NATO member state in the Balkans will unblock its bid to join the European Union or seek to improve its relations with Serbia and Russia.

Analysts predict that Montenegro’s presidential election will not produce a clear winner and that incumbent Milo Djukanovic, 61, will face one of several opponents in a second round in two weeks. Although the presidency is largely ceremonial in Montenegro, the ballot is seen as a key indicator of popular sentiment ahead of the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for June 11.

Among Djukanovic’s opponents are Andrija Mandic, a staunchly pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Popular Front leader, economist Jakov Milatovic of the new Europe Now group and former parliament speaker Aleksa Becic.

Observers say Milatovic, who served in the elected government after the 2020 parliamentary vote but later split from the ruling coalition, may have the best chance of advancing to the second round against Djukanovic.

Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and challenged Russia to join NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by parties seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted the DPS from power in 2020.

However, the new ruling alliance quickly descended into disarray, which blocked Montenegro’s path to the EU and created a political stalemate. The last government fell in a no-confidence vote in August, but remained in power for months due to the deadlock.

Djukanovic – who has served as president and prime minister several times over the past 30 years – saw his popularity plummet after the 2020 ousting of a DPS-dominated coalition. He now hopes to regain the trust of Montenegro’s roughly 540,000 eligible voters and help pave the way for his party’s return to power.

Djukanovic described the presidential election as a choice between an independent Montenegro and a country controlled by neighboring Serbia and Russia.

“Only a few years ago, no one could imagine that we would again be fighting a decisive battle for the survival of Montenegro,” he told his supporters. “Unfortunately, with the change of power two and a half years ago, the horizon of European values ​​has closed irresponsibly.”

Political chaos and stalled reforms in a country long seen as the next candidate for European Union membership have alarmed US and EU officials, who fear Russia is trying to stir up trouble in the Balkans to divert attention from the war in Ukraine.

Montenegro’s 620,000 citizens remain deeply divided between supporters of Djukanovic’s policies and those who consider themselves Serbs and want Montenegro to ally itself with Serbia and Slavic Russia.

Mandic, of the Popular Front party, accused of participating in a Russian-orchestrated coup attempt in 2016, sought to portray himself as a conciliatory figure during the campaign, saying his main goal as president would be to bridge the Montenegrin divide.

Milatovic, the economist, accused Djukanovic and his party of corruption, saying the permanent removal of the president from power is necessary for Montenegro to move forward.

ABC News

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