Montenegro to vote in snap general elections

Montenegro heads to the polls on Sunday with veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic seeking a fresh mandate to guide his young nation through an economic crisis and closer to the EU and NATO.

world Updated: Mar 26, 2009 12:19 IST

Montenegro heads to the polls on Sunday with veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic seeking a fresh mandate to guide his young nation through an economic crisis and closer to the EU and NATO.

The governing coalition led by Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, effectively in power since 1991, called the early legislative polls in order to speed up reforms required for full integration into the two blocs.

But the splintered opposition has accused Djukanovic's government of trying to win a new term before the global economic crisis fully impacts on Montenegro's fragile economy in transition.

"I am not saying that we are wizards who will totally keep Montenegro away from the crisis, but I can say the government is taking measures to spare the country from the worst consequences," Djukanovic said during campaigning.

The premier, who is vying for a sixth term as PM at the age of 47, promised his government would "preserve the stability of the economy" if awarded another mandate.

According to the latest opinion poll, Djukanovic's ruling coalition dubbed "European Montenegro" is likely to sweep to victory giving it an outright majority with 51 per cent of voter support.

The opposition, an assortment of parties representing minority Serbs and people fed up with Djukanovic's domination, have been given virtually no chance of upsetting his 18-year hold on power.

The main opposition Socialist People's Party is expected to gain 16.8 per cent of the vote, ahead of the New Serbian Democracy party with 12 per cent and neo-liberal Movement for Change with six per cent.

Twelve other parties and coalitions will run, but are unlikely to win any of the 81 parliamentary seats.

"The citizens continue to vote for the ruling coalition as there is no clear and precise alternative," analyst Drasko Djuranovic told AFP.

"The domination of the ruling coalition has not been an expression of its strength, but proof of the weakness of the divided and obstructive opposition," he said.

Another analyst, Nedjeljko Rudovich, agreed the opposition "has been failing to force itself as a serious alternative" to the Djukanovic-led coalition.

But Rudovich, political editor of the influential daily Vijesti, warned the main issues would come up after the elections, as the "authorities will face one of the most serious challenges in the past few years."

"The issue is not what will happen on March 29, but after. The question is how Montenegro will manage to cope with a deteriorating economic situation that threatens to jeopardise living standards," he said.

Economic growth in Montenegro is predicted to slow to around 2.0 per cent in the next two years compared with double-digit rates since independence in 2006, the International Monetary Fund said in December.

Gross domestic product growth reached 10.7 per cent in 2007, and was expected to come in at 8.0 per cent in 2008, says the central bank.

Montenegro split from a loose union with Serbia in June 2006 after a historic independence referendum, and applied to join the European Union in December.

It signed a so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the 27-nation bloc in October 2007, the first stage in a country's membership quest.

Montenegro hopes to join the NATO military alliance, which in mid-2008 invited the former Yugoslav republic to begin "intensified dialogue" on its membership and related reforms.

Sunday's vote will be monitored by more than 1,200 observers, including some 200 representing the international community.

Some 500,000 voters are eligible to cast ballots from 8:00 am (0600 GMT) until 9:00 pm (1900 GMT). The first estimates will be given shortly after polling closes, while official early results are expected by midnight.

First Published: Mar 26, 2009 12:18 IST