- Election first since defeat of veteran leader Djukanovic
- Former Yugoslav republic is an EU membership candidate
- Polls show pro-European parties dominating vote
By Aleksandar Vasovic and Branko Filipovic
PODGORICA, June 11 (Reuters) – Polls opened in Montenegro on Sunday for a snap election many hope will bring in a new government to implement economic reforms, improve infrastructure and take the NATO member state closer to European Union membership.
The vote is the first in the former Yugoslav republic since Milo Djukanovic, former leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), lost the presidential election in April and stepped down after 30 years in power.
Polling stations for the 540,000-strong electorate opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT). First preliminary and unofficial results are expected about two hours later on the basis of a projection of results from a representative sample of polling stations.
The state election commission will then announce the final election results in coming days.
According to the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) polling organisation, voter turnout by 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) was 28.1%.
Fifteen parties and alliances are competing for 81 parliamentary seats in the country of just over 620,000 people.
Montenegro remains sharply divided between those who identify as Montenegrins, and those who see themselves as Serbs and who remain opposed to the country’s 2006 split from a state union with neighbouring and much larger Serbia.
A poll by the CEDEM last month put the Europe Now Movement (PES), a pro-European party led by former finance minister Milojko Spajic – which also favours closer ties with Serbia – in the lead with 29.1% of the vote. The PES’s Jakov Milatovic won the April presidential vote.
“We understand that people are tired of politics Montenegrin style, but the parliamentary vote will shape life over the next four years,” Spajic said after casting his ballot in the capital Podgorica.
“I expect a stable government, … EU membership, better (living) standards,” Jelena Popovic, from Podgorica, said after casting her ballot at a polling station in a school.
The CEDEM poll put the pro-EU DPS under acting chief Danijel Zivkovic in second place with 24.1% support, with the Serb nationalist, pro-Russia Democratic Front (DF) in third place on 13.2%.
Montenegro is a candidate to join the EU but it must first root out corruption, nepotism and organised crime.
After casting his ballot, Djukanovic, who still wields considerable influence over his party’s policies, said: “I believe they (voters) will… continue to develop our country as an …European civil democracy.”
The vote is expected to end a period of political deadlock in which two governments, that came to power on the back of 2020 protests backed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, collapsed after no-confidence votes.
In 2017, Montenegro joined NATO, a year after a botched coup attempt that the then government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such claims as absurd and the Serbian government denied involvement.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Montenegro – unlike Serbia – joined EU sanctions against Moscow, sent aid to Ukraine, and expelled a number of Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.