Presidential election in Montenegro after months of deadlock

Montenegrin voters voted in a presidential election on Sunday that pits Miloš Jukanovic, a veteran of the political scene in the small Balkan country, against candidates expected to shift the lines.

The ballot is being held after months of impasse in the country bordering the Adriatic. The government was toppled by a vote of no confidence in August but is still in control.

Incumbent President Miloš Jukanović dissolved parliament days before the presidential election and announced early parliamentary elections on 11 June after Miodrag Lečić, a former diplomat, failed to form a new government.

Outgoing Montenegrin President Miloš Jokanovic prepares to vote in the presidential election to be held in Podgorica on March 19, 2023 (AFP – SAVO PRELEVIC, SAVO PRELEVIC)

Montenegro, which is negotiating EU accession, is “completely paralyzed on its European path”, announced the head of state on Friday, announcing the date for legislative elections.

In this country of 620,000 inhabitants, the president has essentially a representative role and the prime minister is the main lever of power.

Milo Jokanovic, 61, nevertheless remains an important figure, having led Montenegro for three consecutive decades as president or prime minister. A former close friend of Belgrade strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he defected to the Western camp and secured his country’s divorce from Serbia in 2006.

– “Sustainability” and “Europe Objectives” –

72-year-old retiree Radovan Jedovic wants change: “Nowhere in the world does one man rule for more than 30 years. During this time the United States has changed its president five or six times”.

After the vote, Mr Jokanovic invited his compatriots to seize the “opportunity” of the ballot to choose the “stability” and “purpose” of a Montenegro within the “European family of states and peoples”.

“I know that all (candidates) have the same ambition, that of defeating the current president (…) and I am sure of my superiority”, he said.

Montenegro's presidential candidate Jakov Milatovic (L) and his wife Milena prepare to vote in Podgorica March 19, 2023 (AFP - SAVO PRELEVIC, SAVO PRELEVIC)
Montenegro’s presidential candidate Jakov Milatovic (L) and his wife Milena prepare to vote in Podgorica March 19, 2023 (AFP – SAVO PRELEVIC, SAVO PRELEVIC)

But his star faded during the 2020 legislative elections, in which his formation, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was defeated by a coalition backed by the country’s dominant religion, the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Since these elections, no camp has been able to secure a stable majority and the country is moving from one crisis to another.

Seven candidates are in the fray for the post of president. If no one manages to garner more than 50% of the vote, which according to analysts is the most likely scenario, a second round will take place on 2 April.

Andrija Mandić, 59, from the pro-Russian Democratic Front, Aleksa Besić, 35, from the center-right Democrats Party and now Jakov Milatović, 37, from Europe, will be a formation that seems to have wind in its sails. Jokanovic’s staunchest opponent.

Mr Mandik promised on Sunday “a policy that will deliver a fierce fight against corruption and organized crime”.

– Direction change? ,

A defeat for Milo Jokanovic could change course for a country whose European prospects have been dogged by corruption allegations and a slow pace of reform.

Political scientist Daliborka Uljarevic told AFP: “These elections will decide whether Montenegro will stick to its current foreign policy goals or whether they will change under Russo-Serbian influence.”

Under the auspices of the outgoing president, Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, has been negotiating EU membership since 2012 and has left the Russian sphere of influence.

But the rule of Milo Jokanovic and the DPS has been marred by allegations of widespread corruption and connections to organized crime.

Many residents are without illusions. “I am disappointed by the power that promised reforms and rapid entry into the European Union,” said Anja, a 32-year-old lawyer who requested anonymity.

Exit polls are expected around 9:00 pm (8:00 pm GMT), while the Election Commission is not expected to release preliminary results until Monday.


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