Montenegro is holding an early parliamentary election in a vote that could put an end to deep political divisions and years of instability that have hampered the small NATO-member country on its route to joining the European Union.
Some 542,000 voters are eligible to choose among 15 parties and coalitions fielding candidates, ranging from groups that are staunchly pro-Western to ones that are pro-Serbian and pro-Russian.
Economy and living standards dominated campaign
Unlike in previous elections, when the focal point of campaigning was whether the country should be leaning toward the EU or closer to Russia and Serbia, the economy and living standards dominated the issues this time.
“Finally, we are deciding on the quality of life, rather than on the East or West,” Tanja Bojovic, 38, said as she cast her ballot in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica. “I expect the victory of those who will lead us to a better life.”
The election is Montenegro’s first in more than 30 years that does not feature Milo Djukanovic, who served almost continuously as the country’s prime minister or president since 2001. He lost a presidential election in April and has taken a back seat in national politics.
Polls and analysts predicted Europe Now, a newly formed centrist movement, was most likely to be the top vote-getter but without enough seats in the 81-seat parliament to form a new government on its own.
President Jakov Milatovic, who belongs to the Europe Now movement, said he hoped that “following the parliamentary elections, the new Assembly of Montenegro will reflect what is currently a new political reality in the country.”
The Democratic Party of Socialists, the party formerly led by Djukanovic, experienced a decline in popularity after three decades of dominance and has new leadership looking for a chance to make a comeback.
Also running were candidates from the pro-Serb and pro-Russian Democratic Front, a party considered likely to emerge as a kingmaker in the formation of a future coalition government.
Political promises not based on economic reality
Political analyst Ana Nenezic, executive director of the Centre for Monitoring and Research, said the focus on the economy “is beneficial for the society” but promises of salary hikes made by politicians “are not based on a real economy.”
She added that based on the latest election forecasts, “I will be really surprised if we get a politically stable government.”
Djukanovic led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by parties seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted the Democratic Party of Socialists from power in the previous parliamentary elections, held in 2020.
The new ruling coalition, however, soon plunged into disarray, which stalled Montenegro’s path toward the EU and created a political deadlock. The government fell in a no-confidence vote last year but remained in office for months because of the stalemate.
Montenegro, a picturesque Adriatic Sea country of about 620,000 people, was once viewed as the country first in line to join the EU from the Western Balkans.