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Pro-EU group expected to win early parliamentary elections in Montenegro

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PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A newly formed centrist group advocating Montenegro’s membership in the European Union is expected to win Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections in the small Balkan country, but without enough support to form a government of its own alone, according to independent vote observers.

The Center for Democratic Transition pollster group said that based on all votes counted, the Europe Now movement won 26 percent of the vote, while the coalition led by former President Milo’s Democratic Socialist Party Djukanovic got 23%.

Unofficial results were based on pollster projections and the results of representative samples from each polling station. The national electoral commission is expected to announce official election results in the coming days.

Sunday’s vote is expected to end the deep political divisions and years of instability that have hampered the small NATO member country on its path to independence. join the European Union.

But political instability is likely to persist, with no clear winner and difficult coalition negotiations ahead.

“Tomorrow is a new day,” said Milojko Spajic, leader of the Europe Now movement. “We are not going to be arrogant and we will sit down with everyone who shares our values. We will obviously form a new pro-European government.”

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

When voting closed, turnout was just over 56%, the lowest in Montenegro since it broke away from Serbia to become an independent state in 2006. Analysts say turnout was low because that many voters are tired of frequent elections that have produced no major policy changes. the local political scene.

Unlike previous elections, where the campaign focused on whether the country should lean towards the EU or towards the EU. closer to Russia and in Serbia, the economy and living standards dominated this time.

“Finally, we decide on the quality of life, rather than East or West,” said Tanja Bojovic, 38, while voting in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica. “I await the victory of those who will lead us to a better life.”

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

President Jakov Milatovic, a member of the Europe Now movement, said he hoped that “after the parliamentary elections, the new Assembly of Montenegro will reflect what is currently a new political reality in the country.”

The Socialist Democratic Party, formerly led by Djukanovic, has seen a decline in popularity after three decades of dominance and has a new leadership that was looking for a chance to make a comeback.

The pro-Serbian coalition For the Future of Montenegro established itself as a kingmaker in the formation of a future coalition government by winning some 15% of the vote on Sunday, according to independent pollsters.

Political analyst Ana Nenezic, executive director of the Center for Monitoring and Research, said the focus on the economy “is beneficial for society” but promises to raise politicians’ salaries “are not not based on a real economy.

She added that, based on the latest election forecasts, “I will be really surprised if we get a politically stable government.”

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 has ousted the Democratic Party from socialists from power during the previous legislative elections, organized in 2020.

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However, the new ruling coalition quickly descended into disarray, blocking Montenegro’s path to the EU and creating a political impasse. The government was ousted in a vote of no confidence last year, but remained in power for months due to the impasse.

Montenegro, a picturesque country on the Adriatic Sea of ​​around 620,000 inhabitants, was once considered the first country on the list to join the EU from the Western Balkans.

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Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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