© Reuters. Milo Djukanovic, President of Montenegro and candidate of the Democratic Party of Socialists, speaks to the media at a polling station during the presidential elections in Podgorica, Montenegro March 19, 2023. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
By Aleksandar Vasovic
PODGORICA (Reuters) – Montenegro’s veteran president Milo Djukanovic will face a runoff on April 2 against a pro-Western former economy minister, after no candidate secured a 50% majority in a first round of elections on Sunday, according to a projection based on 99.7% of the voting sample.
The Monitoring and Research Center (CEMI) polling group predicted that Djukanovic would get the most votes, with 35.3%, based on results compiled from a statistical sample of votes cast.
Former Economy Minister Jakov Milatovic, a Western-educated pro-European economist and deputy leader of the centrist Europe Now party, is expected to win 29.2%.
Milatovic described his result as a victory “of a beautiful, better, fair…and European Montenegro”.
“We took a decisive step towards April 2…and a victory sealed,” he said.
Andrija Mandic, a pro-Serb and pro-Russian politician and head of the Democratic Front (DF) alliance, trails with 19.3%. He announced his support for Milatovic in the second round.
“Without the support of the DF in the second round, there can be no electoral victory… I give my full support to Milatovic,” Mandic told his supporters.
The official result is not expected to be released for several days pending a complaints procedure.
Djukanovic was president or prime minister for 33 years. After the vote, he told his supporters that he was happy with what he had achieved.
“We are happy with this level of support, it’s a good basis… which will lead us to victory in the second round,” said Djukanovic.
Opponents accuse Djukanovic and his center-left Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption, links to organized crime and running the country of some 620,000 people as their personal fiefdom – charges Djukanovic and his party deny.
Sunday’s vote came amid a year-long political crisis marked by votes of no confidence in two separate governments and a row between lawmakers and Djukanovic over the president’s refusal to appoint a new prime minister.
On Thursday, Djukanovic dissolved parliament and scheduled early parliamentary elections for June 11. A victory in the second round would strengthen the chances of his DPS party in the parliamentary vote.
Over the years, Montenegro has been divided between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who consider themselves Serbs and oppose the country’s independence in 2006 from a former union with neighboring and much larger Serbia .
The country, which depends mainly on revenue from its tourism in the Adriatic, joined NATO in 2017, following a failed coup attempt a year earlier that the government blamed on Russian agents and to Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed these claims as absurd.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Montenegro joined EU sanctions against Moscow. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of hostile states.