Political novice confirmed victorious in Montenegro election

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PODGORICA – Official results published Thursday confirmed a crushing defeat for Montenegro’s long-time leader Milo Djukanovic in a weekend presidential election, signaling his departure from the small Balkan state’s political scene after more than 30 years in power.

Economy expert and political novice Jakov Milatovic won the presidential runoff election held on Sunday with around 59% of the vote, to Djukanovic’s 41%, according to the final official results.

Djukanovic led Montenegro to independence from much larger Serbia in 2006 and to NATO membership in 2017.

Milatovic’s victory reflected voter fatigue with Djukanovic — who has served as president twice and prime minister seven times — as well as disillusionment with established politicians. Although the presidency is largely a ceremonial position in Montenegro, it influences the political trends in the country.

Djukanovic meanwhile rendered his resignation as the president of his centrist Democratic Party of Socialists, the largest in Montenegro. The party’s leadership will meet on Thursday to consider the resignation and likely name an interim leader.

This was Djukanovic’s first loss in an election since he entered politics in the former Yugoslav republic in the early 1990s. During his decades in power, the 61-year-old switched from being a pro-Serbian communist to a pro-Western politician.

Milatovic, 36, first entered politics in 2020 after finishing his education in Britain and the United States.

The outcome of Sunday’s election is likely to impact on an early parliamentary vote set for June 11. That vote was scheduled because of a monthslong government deadlock that stalled Montenegro’s pending European Union membership and alarmed the West as war rages in Ukraine.

Though Milatovic’s Europe Now group isn’t formally part of the country’s ruling coalition, his presidential candidacy won backing from the shaky alliance that includes parties advocating closer ties with neighboring Serbia as well as Russia.

Milatovic has denied Djukanovic’s allegations that the governing coalition is pushing Montenegro back under Serbian and Russian influence.

Since the election, Milatovic has pledged to keep the country on an EU membership course, strengthen NATO ties and follow international sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Those stands have angered Serbian nationalists who had hoped he would switch from Djukanovic’s pro-Western policies and turn the small Balkan state toward Serbia and Russia instead.

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Political novice confirmed victorious in Montenegro election

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