Montenegro election: Ruling DPS leads with slim margin
August 31, 2020
In Montenegro, the ruling DPS was nearly neck-and-neck with its main rivals, according to the latest official tally. The campaign was dominated by tensions with the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) could be knocked out of power for the first time in decades if opposition parties decide to unite against the long-ruling party.
The DPS received 35% of the vote, just ahead of the opposition pro-Serb alliance, which garnered 32.5%, according to an official total of more than 98% of Sunday's ballots.
Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic, considered one of Europe's longest-serving leaders, leads the DPS. Although some consider him a Western-oriented reformer who has led the country since the end of communism, he faced widespread allegations of corruption and links to organized crime.
Ahead of the vote, opinion polls showed Djukanovic's DPS winning with slim margins, but falling short of the numbers they would need to form a government alone.
Casting his ballot on Sunday, Djukanovic said he was optimistic that his party would come out on top despite "attempts to stir up tensions from outside Montenegro."
Montenegrin state vs. Orthodox church
Djukanovic's government has also come under scrutiny for a controversial law that could be used to transform hundreds of Serbian Orthodox Church monasteries in Montenegro into state property.
Right-wing and pro-Serb opposition parties made gains, riding on a wave of support for the Serbian Orthodox Church. The church's top Montenegrin bishop said last week that it was "natural to rejoice in those who are against the (religion) law."
Propped up by parts of Montenegro's Serb population, those parties seek closer ties to Serbia and Russia. President Djukanovic has accused them of being "the political infantry of Greater Serbia nationalism."
A key representative of the country's main pro-Serb alliance, Zdravko Krivokapic, said on Sunday he wanted to send a "message of peace," adding that a "new day is coming for Montenegro, which will take a different path."
Meanwhile, a handful of parties honed in on bolstering rule of law and supporting Montenegro's economy as it deals with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Analysts said these smaller parties could play a decisive role in who gets to form the next government.
"It is a tense situation and the outcome of the election will depend on the outcome within the civil bloc," Podgorica-based analyst Milos Besis told Agence France-Presse.
Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006, joined NATO a decade later and has taken steps to join the EU. For observers, Sunday's election could determine the fate of its pro-Western trajectory.