Montenegrin president to face new rival in run-off vote after narrow election victory

| 2023-03-20 2 min read

Montenegrin president to face new rival in run-off vote after narrow election victory

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic took around one-third of the votes in Sunday’s presidential election ballot, well below the majority needed to avoid a second-round vote, according to the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) data based on 95.5% of processed votes.

Djukanovic, 61, is one of Europe’s longest-ruling politicians has been a dominant political figure in the country since its first free elections in 1991. He and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. 

However, with most of the voter data in, Djukanovic looks to have fallen well short of the absolute majority required for outright victory, and is likely to face Western-educated, pro-Europe economist Jakov Milatovic in a second-round run-off vote.

On Monday morning Djukanovic wrote on Facebook that “Citizens in the first round of presidential elections evaluated our politics as the policy that should lead Montenegro.

“Over the next 14 days we continue to work hard and dedicated to a convincing victory. On 2 April we win for our Montenegro and all the people living in it.”

Djukanovic also scheduled a snap general election for 11 June, when he dissolved Parliament on Thursday 16 March.

Russia divisive issue for Montenegro voters

Montenegro is in the midst of a year-long political crisis crisis marked by no-confidence votes in two separate governments, a dispute between MPs and Djukanovic over the naming of a new prime minister, and tensions between Montenegrins and those who identify as Serbs.  

The Balkan country has taken a strong stance against Russia and joined EU sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, the Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.  

However, an alliance dominated by parties seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia has solidified in recent years, and ousted DPS from power in 2020. On Sunday, pro-Serb and pro-Russian Democratic Front candidate Andrija Mandic won 19.1% of the vote, putting him in third place, according to CeMI.

Milatovic emerges as new rival to strongman

Nonetheless, Djukanovic looks set to face Europhile Milatovic of the Europe Now Movement in the second round on 2 April, after the former economy minister placed second, with 29.3% of the vote.

In the closing stages of the election campaign, Milatovic called for a “richer, more equal and just Montenegro”. The 37-year-old politician took a highly combative stance against his main opponent, promising to “usher Djukanovic into retirement and lead Montenegro onto the right path”. Milatovic served as economy minister in the government elected in the 2020 parliamentary vote but later split from the ruling coalition.

The country’s Serbian Foreign Minister Ivan Dacic told local media that “Serbs will be the deciding factor in the second round”, before congratulating Mandic for “results achieved in such specific conditions”.

Democrat Aleksa Becic 10.09%, Social Democratic Party candidate Draginja Vuksanovic Stankovic garnered 3.2% of the vote on Sunday, United Montenegro candidate Goran Danilovic 1.4%, and Jovan Radulovic 0.8%. Around 344,700 voters, or 63.6% of the electorate, cast their ballot in the elections.