© Reuters. Milo Djukanovic, President of Montenegro and a candidate from 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


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By Aleksandar Vasovic

PODGORICA (Reuters) -Montenegro’s veteran President Milo Djukanovic will face a run-off on April 2 against a pro-Western former economy minister, after no candidate secured a 50% majority in a first round election on Sunday, according to a vote projection.

The Center for Monitoring and Research polling group (CEMI) projected Djukanovic would end up with the most votes, with 35.5%, based on results tabulated from a statistical sample of votes cast.

Former economy minister Jakov Milatovic, a Western-educated, pro-European economist, was projected to win 28.8%, while Andrija Mandic, a pro-Serb and pro-Russian politician, trailed with 19.2%.

The official result is not likely to be released for several days pending a complaints procedure. Ana Nenezic, a CEMI analyst, said on a televised broadcast that the group’s projection was based on 69% of votes in its respresentative sample, making it likely to be very close to the final figure.

Djukanovic has served as president or prime minister for 33 years.

After voting earlier in the day, he told reporters that the election provided a chance “for Montenegro to confirm it can live in political and social stability” and continue on a path towards becoming “a part of the united countries of Europe”.

Opponents accuse Djukanovic and his left-centrist Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption, links to organised crime, and of 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 no-confidence votes in two separate governments and a row between lawmakers and Djukanovic over the president’s refusal to name a new prime minister.

On Thursday Djukanovic dissolved the parliament and scheduled snap legislative elections for June 11. A victory in the presidential election would bolster 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 see themselves as Serbs and oppose the country’s 2006 independence from a former union with neighbouring much larger Serbia.

The country, which mainly relies on revenues from its Adriatic tourism, joined NATO in 2017, following a botched coup attempt a year earlier that the government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such 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 unfriendly states.

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