Montenegro set for snap election to secure reforms, path to EU

People pass near a campaign poster as Montenegro prepares for snap parliamentary elections in Podgorica, Montenegro June 8, 2023. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro holds a snap election on Sunday for a new government expected to implement economic reforms, improve infrastructure and take the NATO member state closer to European Union membership.

The vote will be the first 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 in the small former Yugoslav republic.

Over the years Montenegro has been divided between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who see themselves as Serbs and opposed the country's 2006 independence from a union with neighbouring, much larger Serbia.

A poll by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) last month placed the pro-European Movement Europe Now (PES) party, which also favours closer ties with Serbia, in the lead with 29.1% ahead of the parliamentary election.

The PES's Jakov Milatovic won the April presidential vote.

During the parliamentary campaign, PES party chief and ex-finance minister Milojko Spajic said he wanted to focus on the improvements to an economy laden with mismanagement and graft, and heavily reliant on revenues from Adriatic seaside tourism.

"We are the only ones talking about infrastructure, about tax reforms. No one else is talking about it," he said.

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) trailing on 13.2%.

Zivkovic said if the DPS won it would end a period of political paralysis in which two governments that came to power on the back of 2020 protests backed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church were felled by no-confidence votes.

“Victory ... is extremely important in order to form a stable, European and reformist government that will move Montenegro away from deadlock and get it back on the right track,” he said.

Many ordinary Montenegrins said they wanted a government that would bring stability and build on the country's status as a candidate for EU membership, which will require rooting out corruption, nepotism and organised crime.

"Some order needs to prevail, because we are currently living in some kind of anarchy,” Branko Pavlovic, 37, said in the capital Podgorica.

“I expect that we will unite as a nation, ... that our life will move to a better European world," said 24-year-old Anja Petrovic.

Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, a year after a botched coup attempt that the 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. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.

(Reporting by Stevo Vasiljevic, Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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