Montenegro goes to runoff presidential election amid political turmoil

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Montenegro will hold a second round of presidential election on April 2 after none of the candidates managed to secure more than 50% of the vote on Sunday.

The incumbent president Milo Djukanovic, who has led the country for more than three decades, won around 35% of the votes, according to preliminary results. He will face Jakov Milatovic, a former economy minister and a leader of the recently-formed Europe Now group, who won some 29%.

The election was marked by political uncertainty and divisions over Montenegro’s relations with Serbia and Russia on one hand, and NATO and the European Union on the other.

Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. He has pledged to continue Montenegro’s path towards EU membership if re-elected.

Milatovic has accused Djukanovic and his party of corruption and nepotism, saying that Montenegro needs a change of leadership and a new vision for its future. He has also portrayed himself as civic-oriented, centrist and pro-EU.

The election was also seen as a test for the ruling coalition that ousted DPS from power in 2020 after nearly three decades. The coalition soon plunged into disarray over disagreements on key issues such as religion, citizenship and foreign policy.

One of Djukanovic’s main challengers was Andrija Mandic, a leader of the pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Democratic Front party, who won around 15% of the votes. Mandic has called for closer ties with Belgrade and Moscow and opposed Montenegro’s NATO membership.

The turnout was about 65%, slightly lower than in previous elections. The international observers said that the election was generally well-organized but noted some irregularities such as pressure on voters, misuse of state resources and biased media coverage.

The runoff election is expected to be tight and decisive for Montenegro’s political direction. Both Djukanovic and Milatovic have appealed to their supporters to mobilize for the second round.

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