PODGORICA (Reuters) -Montenegro's Europe Now Movement (PES) won 25.6% of votes in a snap election on Sunday, the Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI) pollster said on the basis of a projection of results from a sample of polling stations.
The PES, which has pro-European Union policies and also wants closer ties with neighbouring Serbia, failed to secure enough votes to rule alone and it will have to seek partners in the 81-seat parliament to form the government.
"This is a great victory ... we will speak with everybody who shares our values," Milojko Spajic, the PES leader told reporters in his party headquarters.
The pro-European Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and a group of small allied parties, which ruled Montenegro between 1990 and 2020, came in second with 23.7% of support, CEMI said on the basis of 98.7% of ballots counted in a representative sample of 400 polling stations across the country.
According to their own vote count, the DPS and its acting leader Danijel Zivkovic said they should have one deputy more than the PES.
Out of 15 parties and alliances that took part in the vote, nine are seen to enter the parliament, the CEMI poll suggested.
The state election commission is expected to announce the final results in the coming days.
The conservative alliance For the Future of Montenegro, led by the pro-Serbian and pro-Russian Democratic Front, garnered 14.7%.
Another pro-EU grouping comprising the Democratic Party and the URA movement of outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic came in fourth with 12.2%, CEMI said.
Aleksa Becic, the leader of the Democratic Party said the alliance with URA would be a kingmaker in coalition talks. "There will be no government without (our) movement," he said.
Montenegrins hope the new administration will improve the country's economy and infrastructure, and take the NATO member state closer to EU membership.
The vote was the first in the former Yugoslav republic of just over 620,000 people since Milo Djukanovic, former leader of the DPS, lost the presidential election in April and stepped down after 30 years in power.
According to CEMI, voter turnout by the time polls closed at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) was unusually low at 56.4%. Observers say there were few irregularities.
The vote is expected to end a political deadlock in which two governments that came to power after 2020 protests backed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church collapsed after no-confidence votes.
Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, 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.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, and Stevo Vasiljevic and Branko Filipovic in Podgorica; Editing by David Holmes, Ros Russell, Jan Harvey and Diane Craft)