April 1, 2023

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 affix 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, primarily based on a pattern of the voters, are anticipated about two hours later.

If no candidate secures greater than 50 % of the 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 won’t produce a transparent winner and that incumbent Milo Djukanovic, 61, will face one in all a number of challengers within the runoff vote.

Djukanovic, the incumbent pro-Western president, has held high political posts within the nation for 33 years and is in search of one other five-year time period.

Though the presidency is essentially ceremonial in Montenegro, the poll is seen as a key indicator of fashionable sentiment forward of a parliamentary election set for June 11.

“I do not plan to lose this election and it may be anticipated that I lead my celebration on the parliamentary vote,” Djukanovic stated after casting his poll. “I consider there shall be a runoff … and that we’ll 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 celebration, Andrija Mandic, economist Jakov Milatovic of the newly fashioned Europe Now group, and former parliament speaker Aleksa Becic.

Economist Jakov Milatovic of the newly-formed Europe Now group casts his ballot at the polling station in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, Sunday, March 19, 2023. Voters in Montenegro are casting ballots Sunday in a presidential election marked by political turmoil and uncertainty over whether the The small NATO member state in the Balkans will unblock its bid to join the European Union or seek to improve ties with Serbia and Russia.  (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)
Jakov Milatovic of the newly-formed Europe Now group casts his poll in Podgorica, Montenegro [Risto Bozovic/AP Photo]

Observers say Milatovic, who served within the authorities elected after the 2020 parliamentary vote however later cut up from the ruling coalition, could stand one of the best probability of creating it into the runoff in opposition to Djukanovic.

Milatovic has accused Djukanovic and his celebration of corruption, saying the president’s closing removing from energy is important for Montenegro to maneuver ahead.

After casting his poll, Mandic advised reporters that if he received, his presidency would create “a coverage of reconciliation centered on all residents and which shall be waging a robust combat in opposition to corruption and arranged crime”.

Djukanovic and his Democratic Get together of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006, and defeated Russia to affix NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by events in search of nearer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted DPS from energy in 2020.

The brand new ruling alliance, nonetheless, quickly plunged into disarray, which stalled Montenegro’s path in the direction of the EU and created a political impasse. The most recent 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 organized crime, and of operating the nation of some 620,000 individuals as their private fiefdom – fees Djukanovic and his celebration deny.

He now hopes to regain belief amongst Montenegro’s roughly 540,000 eligible voters and assist pave the best way for his celebration’s return to energy.

Djukanovic has portrayed the presidential election as a alternative between an impartial Montenegro and a rustic managed by neighboring Serbia and Russia.

“Just a few years in the past, nobody might think about that we might 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.”

Popular Front party leader Andrija Mandic applauds during a pre-election rally in Podgorica, Montenegro, Friday, March 17, 2023. Montenegro is holding a presidential election this weekend that is seen as a test of whether the country will move forward towards European Union integration or closer to neighboring Serbia and Russia.  (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)
Democratic Entrance celebration chief Andrija Mandic applauds throughout a pre-election rally in Podgorica, Montenegro [Risto Bozovic/AP Photo]

The political chaos and stalled reforms in a rustic lengthy seen as the subsequent in line for EU membership have alarmed EU and United States officers, who worry Russia might attempt to stir hassle within the Balkans to divert consideration from the warfare 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 celebration’s Mandic, who was accused of being a part of a Russia-orchestrated 2016 coup attempthas sought to current himself as a conciliatory determine through the marketing campaign, saying his fundamental objective as president can 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 in opposition to Russia. The Kremlin has positioned Montenegro on its record of unfriendly states.

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