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Montenegro: Political novice Jakov Milatovic wins presidency

April 3, 2023

Oxford-educated economist Jakov Milatovic has declared victory over incumbent Milo Djukanovic. His promise is to root out corruption and lead the country to European Union membership.

Jakov Milatovic celebrates after provisional election results
Jakov Milatovic is backed by Montenegro’s governing majorityImage: Marko Djurica/REUTERS

Longtime Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic on Sunday conceded defeat to a young economist and political novice Jakov Milatovic in the country's presidential election runoff.

The 36-year-old Milatovic campaigned to root out corruption and lead the country to membership of the European Union.

How the public voted

Milatovic won around 60% in the vote on Sunday, while 61-year-old Djukanovic won around 40%, according to projections released by the Center for Monitoring and Research. 

Official results were expected on Monday, but both politicians conceded that the margin was too decisive to change. 

Turnout was almost 70%. Milo Djukanovic and Jakov Milatovic were the top two finishers in the first round of elections held last month. 

Sweeping up corruption in Montenegro

Milatovic hails 'historic' win

In his victory speech, Milatovic said the moment of victory was "historic," adding it was the "night we waited for the past 30 years."

Milatovic is set to serve a five-year term in office. "We want to deal with issues that are of vital importance: the rule of law, the economy, and European integration," he said

"We are leaving the past behind and making a decisive step into the future," he said. 

Milatovic's "Europe Now!" movement emerged after the first government that resulted from the 2020 parliamentary elections collapsed.

Familiar figure on political stage

Djukanovic, who is possibly Europe's longest-serving politician, has stayed in power for the 32 years. He has served as the prime minister and president on multiple occasions. 

He came to power in 1991 as Montenegro's prime minister and was in office when voters decided to remain with Serbia as part of Yugoslavia.

Djukanovic was prime minister when Montenegro declared its independence in June 2006 after an independence referendum. 

He later defied Slavic ally Russia and pursued Montenegro's entry to NATO. The country is still seeking to join the EU. 

Why is the vote important?

Now that he has won the vote, Milatovic's "Europe Now!" movement could find itself in a position to dominate the next government that will be formed after a June 11 parliamentary vote.

Although the presidency in Montenegro is essentially a ceremonial post, the vote is important because it could signal a political reshuffle ahead of the vote.

"Montenegro has chosen and I respect that choice," Djukanovic said on Sunday. "Elections are sometimes won — we won for a very long time — sometimes you lose. I wish the new president that he be worthy of the trust he received."

rm/msh (Reuters, AP)