Sharp reversal in offing for party governing Montenegro for past 30 years

By Snezana Stanojevic

Belgrade, Aug 30 (efe-epa).- The parliamentary elections held Sunday in the tiny southeastern European nation of Montenegro have dealt a harsh blow to the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which for the first time in three decades could find itself in the opposition.

The DPS, with its pro-European stance, and the opposition “For the Future of Montenegro” coalition are practically tied in the legislative elections, according to preliminary estimates of the vote.

The figures, released by the non-governmental CeMI organization supervising the elections on the basis of just over 49 percent of ballots from a sample of polling stations, indicate that the DPS is winning a plurality with 34.8 percent of the vote, equivalent to 29 of the 81 seats in the Montenegrin Parliament.

The opposition coalition, which has coalesced around the Democratic Front (DF) dominated by Serbian and pro-Russian nationalists, has obtained 32.7 percent of the vote, or 28 seats in Parliament, according to the initial CeMI estimates.

The third most powerful political force, at this point in the post-election vote count, is the “Peace Is Our Nation” opposition coalition headed by the center-left Democrats, with 12.6 percent of the votes, which would afford them 10 seats in the national legislature, followed by the “Black Over White” coalition, also an opposition grouping, with 5.7 percent of the vote, or 4 seats.

A prospective alliance among the three opposition groups would have just enough lawmakers – 42 – to dislodge the current government, but negotiations among them regarding how to structure the government and allocate Cabinet positions could be difficult.

The Social-Democrats (SD), a partner in the government coalition, have 4.2 percent of the vote – or 3 seats – at this early stage, the same number of seats as the country’s Muslim minority.

Two other minority political groups – those of the Albanian minority and possibly the Social Democratic Party (SDP) – could also enter Parliament once the final vote tally is presented, provided that they both exceed the 3 percent threshold required to obtain parliamentary representation.

Zdravko Krivokapic, who headed the For the Future of Montenegro coalition, on Sunday night proclaimed the opposition victory, saying that “Freedom has arrived in Montenegro.”

“We will build a common future, which we need so that our children may be happy here,” said Krivokapic at the coalition headquarters in Podgorica amid shouts of support from his followers.

“We offer the hand of reconciliation, that is our aim,” he said, asking his supporters among the opposition to celebrate in their homes and not in the streets to avoid any possibility of incidents and so “that there is no stain on victory.”

The other opposition coalition groupings also said that the election result was “historic.”

Some 540,000 citizens eligible to vote were called to the polls in the tiny Balkan nation to select their parliamentary representatives, and some 75 percent availed themselves of their right to vote, a significantly larger portion than had cast ballots in earlier elections.

With its 620,000 inhabitants, Montenegro has been a member of NATO since 2017 and aspires to enter the European Union around 2025.

The Sunday elections were the tightest in the 30 years of DPS government, which has been headed by the “strong man” president, Milo Djukanovic.

The elections come amid tensions that arose in late 2019 over the approval of a controversial law that requires the properties of religious communities to be declared state assets and which is opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is dominant in Montenegro.

The Religious Freedom Law sparked months of protest marches joined by thousands of people and headed by Orthodox priests.

The rejection of the law had been expected, given that more than 70 percent of the country’s citizens consider themselves Christians and the Serbian Orthodox Church enjoys great popularity and public confidence.

In addition to the discontent over the law, many citizens raised their voices demanding a clear and definitive response to corruption among the country’s political elite, to accusations of clientelism and to the autocratic manner in which the country has been governed.

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