Montenegro holds snap parliamentary vote that could determine its path to EU

PODGORIC – Montenegro is holding early parliamentary elections on Sunday, a vote that could provide indications of the ability of the small NATO member in the Balkans to overcome the deep political divisions and instability that have hampered its membership of the European Union .

Some 542,000 voters can choose from 15 parties and coalitions fielding candidates, ranging from staunchly pro-Western groups to pro-Serbian and pro-Russian groups.

The election will be the first in Montenegro in more than 30 years without Milo Djukanovic, who has served almost continuously as the country’s prime minister or president since 2001. He lost a presidential election in April and took a back seat in politics.

Polls and analysts predict that the centrist Europe Now movement, led by financial expert Milojko Spajic and current president Jakov Milatovic, is most likely to win the most votes, but without enough seats in parliament to form a new government on their own.

Spajic, 37, a former finance minister who in 2021 created economic reforms that included increases in average wages, is now promising further pay rises, as well as a seven-hour working day instead of the current eight.

“I am very interested in carrying out the plan that I presented to the citizens,” said Spajic, who could become the country’s next prime minister, during one of his pre-election rallies. “I’ll quit if I don’t realize that.”

The Democratic Party of Socialists, the party formerly led by Djukanovic, has seen a decline in popularity after three decades of dominance and has a new leadership looking for a chance to come back.

Party leader Danijel Zivkovic accuses the country’s current government of jeopardizing Montenegro’s path to the EU and promises to unblock it if the DPS returns to power. Montenegro, a picturesque country on the Adriatic Sea with a population of around 620,000, was once considered the first to join the EU from the Western Balkans.

Djukanovic led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and challenged Russia to join NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by parties seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted the DPS from power in the previous legislative elections of 2020.

However, the new ruling alliance quickly descended into disarray, which blocked Montenegro’s path to the EU and created a political stalemate. The government fell in a no-confidence vote last year but remained in power for months due to the deadlock.

Sunday’s election will also feature the United Reform Action coalition which includes caretaker Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic and a pro-Serb and Russian coalition called For the Future of Montenegro.

Abazovic, who has presented himself as the anti-mafia leader in a country plagued by crime and corruption, also promises several measures to improve the standard of living of voters.

“When we defeat the mafia, there will be (money) for everyone,” Abazovic said recently. “We will establish a justice fund, which will return the stolen funds to the state budget and all citizens.”

The lukewarm election campaign was rocked this week by Abazovic and Europe Now party leader Spajic trading accusations against South Korean “crypto king” Do Kwon.

Kwon was arrested in Montenegro in March on an international arrest warrant along with another South Korean citizen in connection with a $40 billion Terraform Labs cryptocurrency crash that devastated retail investors around the world. whole world.

South Korea and the United States have requested his extradition from Montenegro, where he is on trial for allegedly using a fake passport.

Abazovic claimed that Spajic had close business contacts with Do Kwon.

Spajic called Abazovic’s allegations a “political persecution” and accused him of abusing Montenegro’s institutions while creating an election week controversy “for fear of losing power”.

Political analyst Daliborka Uljarevic said such claims and counter-claims proved that the main election issue was not EU membership but “economic populism”, highlighted by most parties promising higher salaries.

“This path (of the EU) has stopped. We are not heading to the EU. The EU was neither a topic nor a pre-election promise, it was completely lost in this part,” Uljarevic said.

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