Illustration photo – President of Montenegro Milo Đukanović (Milo Djukanović) in Podgorica on March 19, 2023.
Podgorica – Montenegrin President Milo Djukanović won today's first round of presidential elections, but did not get a majority of the votes. The elections will be decided only in the second round, according to projections published by Montenegrin and foreign media. In addition to Djukanović, the economist and another pro-Western politician Jakov Milatović is apparently advancing to the decisive phase of the elections. Official results are expected on Monday at the earliest.
Analytical company Center for Monitoring and Research, based on the statements of a sample of voters, estimated that Djukanović, who has been a dominant figure in Montenegrin politics for decades, would win with 36.3 percent of the vote. She awarded second place with 26.5 percent of the vote to Milatovič, who is, among other things, a former finance minister. The CDT research institute later estimated Djukanović's gain at 35.3 percent and Milatović's at almost 29 percent.
In third place, according to public opinion research agencies, the chairman of the Democratic Front Andrija Mandić, who is a supporter of stronger relations with Serbia and Russia. The Montenegrin daily Pobjeda reported in the evening that Mandić called on his supporters to support Milatović in the second round of elections scheduled for April 2.
Voter turnout in this Balkan country of roughly 630,000 inhabitants reached about 63 percent, according to the media. If the projection is confirmed, it would mean a significant drop in support for Djukanović compared to 2018, when he already won in the first round with almost 54 percent of the vote. He is currently finishing his second presidential mandate, and has also spent more than ten years as prime minister, but his tenure was accompanied by a number of scandals.
According to observers, the result of the presidential election will also affect early parliamentary elections planned in this NATO member country on June 11. Djukanović dissolved parliament on Thursday, continuing a year-long political crisis that has seen no-confidence motions in two governments and a row between MPs and Djukanović over the president's refusal to appoint a new prime minister. Opponents also accuse the 61-year-old head of state and his center-left Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption or ties to organized crime.
“This is a chance for Montenegro to confirm that it can live in political and social stability and continue its integration among the united countries of Europe,” Djukanović told reporters today after casting his vote.
Mandić told reporters after the election, that if he won, his presidency would create a “policy of reconciliation aimed at all citizens” and a policy of decisively fighting corruption and organized crime. “I am sure that people have decided to vote for a richer, fairer and more beautiful Montenegro,” Milatović said on the other hand.
According to the newspaper Pobjeda, in the first hours of voting, numerous irregularities were noted, including unsealed ballot boxes or voting without registration in the voter list. “I hope that people will open their eyes and that we will go for a better life,” 53-year-old voter Mirjana Aleksičová told Reuters after casting her ballot at a local school in Podgorica.
Part of the country's population feels they are Montenegrins, while others identify as Serbs and were not in favor of Montenegro's secession from the 2006 merger of Serbia and Montenegro. The country, which relies mainly on tourism revenue, joined NATO in 2017 and is applying for EU membership, but accession talks according to AFP, suspicions of widespread corruption and the slow pace of reforms complicate matters.
Entry into NATO was preceded by a failed coup attempt, which the Montenegrin government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Montenegro joined the EU sanctions against Russia and found itself on the Kremlin's list of hostile countries.