Voters in Montenegro are casting ballots in a presidential election marked by political turmoil and uncertainty over whether or not the small NATO member state within the Balkans will unblock its bid to hitch the European Union or as an alternative search to enhance ties with Serbia and Russia.
Polling stations in Montenegro opened on Sunday at 7am (06:00 GMT) and can shut at 8pm (19:00 GMT). First unofficial outcomes by pollsters, based mostly on a pattern of the voters, are anticipated about two hours later.
If no candidate secures greater than 50 % of votes, a second spherical of voting between the highest two is scheduled for April 2.
Analysts predict that the primary spherical of the presidential election is not going to produce a transparent winner and that incumbent Milo Djukanovic, 61, will face considered one of a number of challengers within the runoff vote.
Djukanovic, the incumbent pro-Western president, has held prime political posts within the nation for 33 years and is looking for one other five-year time period.
Although the presidency is basically ceremonial in Montenegro, the poll is seen as a key indicator of standard sentiment forward of a parliamentary election set for June 11.
“I don’t plan to lose this election and it may be anticipated that I lead my occasion on the parliamentary vote,” Djukanovic stated after casting his poll. “I consider there will likely be a runoff … and that we are going to have a good duel. I’m satisfied of my superiority.”
Djukanovic’s opponents embody a frontrunner of the staunchly pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Democratic Entrance occasion, Andrija Mandic, economist Jakov Milatovic of the newly shaped Europe Now group, and former parliament speaker Aleksa Becic.
Observers say Milatovic, who served within the authorities elected after the 2020 parliamentary vote however later cut up from the ruling coalition, might stand one of the best likelihood of creating it into the runoff towards Djukanovic.
Milatovic has accused Djukanovic and his occasion of corruption, saying the president’s ultimate elimination from energy is critical for Montenegro to maneuver ahead.
After casting his poll, Mandic advised reporters that if he received, his presidency would create “a coverage of reconciliation targeted on all residents and which will likely be waging a robust battle towards corruption and organised crime”.
Djukanovic and his Democratic Social gathering of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006, and defied Russia to hitch NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by events looking for nearer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted DPS from power in 2020.
The brand new ruling alliance, nonetheless, quickly plunged into disarray, which stalled Montenegro’s path towards the EU and created a political impasse. The newest authorities fell in a no-confidence vote in August, however has remained in workplace for months due to the stalemate.
Djukanovic has seen his reputation plummet. Opponents accuse the president and DPS of corruption, hyperlinks to organised crime, and of working the nation of some 620,000 folks as their private fiefdom – fees Djukanovic and his occasion deny.
He now hopes to regain belief amongst Montenegro’s roughly 540,000 eligible voters and assist pave the way in which for his occasion’s return to energy.
Djukanovic has portrayed the presidential election as a alternative between an unbiased Montenegro and a rustic managed by neighbouring Serbia and Russia.
“Just a few years in the past, nobody might think about that we’d as soon as once more wage a decisive battle for the survival of Montenegro,” he advised supporters. “Sadly, with the change of energy two and a half years in the past, the horizon of European values has been irresponsibly closed.”
The political chaos and stalled reforms in a rustic lengthy seen as the subsequent in line for EU membership has alarmed EU and United States officers, who worry Russia might attempt to stir hassle within the Balkans to divert consideration from the battle in Ukraine.
Montenegro’s residents stay deeply divided between supporters of Djukanovic’s insurance policies and those that view themselves as Serbs and need Montenegro to ally itself with Serbia and fellow-Slavic nation Russia.
The Democratic Entrance occasion’s Mandic, who was accused of being a part of a Russia-orchestrated 2016 coup attempt, has sought to current himself as a conciliatory determine in the course of the marketing campaign, saying his principal purpose as president could be to bridge the Montenegrin divide.
The nation joined NATO a yr after the botched coup try that the federal government blamed on Russian brokers and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such claims as absurd.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine final yr, Montenegro joined EU sanctions towards Russia. The Kremlin has positioned Montenegro on its listing of unfriendly states.