Montenegro presidential election a test of policy 2023

This weekend, Montenegro will conduct presidential elections amid a political impasse that has halted the small NATO member’s effort to join the European Union and raised doubts about whether the Balkan nation would align more closely with Serbia and Russia.

Experts anticipate that Sunday’s election will not yield a clear victor and that pro-Western incumbent Milo Djukanovic, 61, will face one of many rivals in a two-week runoff.

In 2006, Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists brought Montenegro to independence from Serbia, and in 2017 they defied Moscow by joining NATO. In 2020, DPS was removed from power by an alliance formed by parties wanting stronger relations with Serbia and Russia.

Montenegro’s presidency is mostly ceremonial, but the election outcome is significant due to the country’s political upheaval and the war in Ukraine. It is also critical for the political destiny of Djukanovic, the Balkan leader with the longest tenure.

Three months after the government lost a vote of no confidence, Djukanovic dissolved parliament on Thursday. Prior to the early parliamentary election that the president is anticipated to call on Friday, the party whose candidate ultimately wins the presidency might enjoy a major boost in the early parliamentary election.

Andrija Mandic, chairman of the firmly pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Popular Front party, economist Jakov Milatovic of the newly founded Europe Today group, and former parliament speaker Aleksa Becic are Djukanovic’s opponents on Sunday.

Milatovic, who served in the cabinet created following the 2020 parliamentary election but later left the ruling coalition, may have the best chance of advancing to the runoff against Djukanovic, according to observers.

Ana Nenezic, executive director of the Center for Monitoring and Research, a think tank, stated that the election’s outcome might indicate Montenegro’s future course. That is, if future foreign policy goals would center on unblocking the European integration process, enhancing relations with EU nations, and NATO membership.

“The triumph of clerical-populist parties, or in this case, candidates, might result in a strengthening of connections with Eastern nations and a shift away from the European vision,” she added.

Since 1991, Djukanovic has served as president or prime minister of Montenegro. However, when DPS barely lost the 2020 parliamentary election, his popularity plummeted. But, with the present administration in chaos, Djukanovic expects to win favor from the electorate.

During his campaign, Djukanovic stated, “We decide at the presidential election whether Montenegro will continue to grow as a free, modern, civic European state or, contrary to its centuries-old heritage, will accept to serve the interests of others.”

The political upheaval and stalled reforms in a nation that has long been regarded as the next candidate for EU membership have unnerved U.S. and EU officials, who fear that Moscow may attempt to stir up trouble in the Balkans to deflect attention from the conflict in Ukraine.

The 620,000 residents of Montenegro are profoundly split between those who support Djukanovic’s policies and those who identify as Serbs and want Montenegro to form alliances with Serbia and Slavic Russia.

Mandic, who was suspected of participating in a coup attempt in 2016, has attempted to portray himself as a conciliatory figure throughout the campaign, stating that his first objective as president would be to heal the Montenegrin split.

Milatovic, the economist, has accused Djukanovic and his DPS party of corruption, stating that the president’s permanent exit from office is essential for Montenegro to advance.

Montenegro has roughly 540,000 eligible voters. The nation is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, which includes rugged mountains and a well-known Adriatic Sea shoreline.

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