Djukanovic's pro-EU ruling coalition likely to win general election

Montenegrins voted in general elections as Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic (pictured) looked to secure a new mandate to navigate the economic crisis and bring his country closer to EU and NATO membership.


AFP - Montenegrins voted Sunday in general elections with Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic bidding for a fresh term to steer his young nation through an economic crisis and closer to the EU and NATO.

Electoral commission spokesman Slobodan Dragovic said voting got underway on schedule across Montenegro, a tiny ex-Yugoslav republic of 650,000 inhabitants wedged between the mountains and Adriatic Sea.

Some 500,000 voters are eligible to cast their ballots from 8:00 am (0600 GMT) until 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) to elect new deputies for the 81-seat parliament.

Djukanovic's ruling coalition, dubbed "European Montenegro," is likely to sweep to victory with an outright 51 percent majority of voter support, the latest surveys show.

The governing coalition, led by Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, effectively in power since 1991, called the parliamentary polls a year and a half early to speed up the tiny Balkan state's Euro-Atlantic integration.

Montenegro applied to join the European Union in December, while also pledging to join the NATO military alliance, which last year invited the country to begin "intensified dialogue" on its membership and related reforms.

Djukanovic called on voters to support his coalition for another four-year mandate, saying Montenegro "needs the leader who has taken it through all temptations in the past two decades and brought it to the doors of the European Union."

"We can offer you such leadership," Djukanovic told supporters at his coalition's final rally on Friday in the capital Podgorica.

Djukanovic promised more foreign investments in tourism, the main source of income for Montenegro, vowing to diminish the effects of the global economic crisis.

Montenegro is yet to turn to the International Monetary Fund, unlike its former federation partner Serbia and other eastern European nations. The extent of the crisis is only expected to become clear after the elections.

Djukanovic, 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.

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

They blamed Djukanovic for economic downfall and widespread corruption, calling on supporters to vote "for change."

"Crime and corruption are bricks that have been holding the foundations of this regime -- if we pull one brick, the regime will fall," said Srdjan Milic of the main opposition pro-Serb Socialist People's Party.

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 hold on power.

But analysts warn the outcome of the polls would likely be overshadowed by the economic crisis in Montenegro, which proclaimed its statehood in 2006 after a union of roughly 90 years with Serbia.

After an independence-fuelled honeymoon including double-digit growth in 2007, Montenegro's economy is being tipped to post growth of 2.0 percent at best during the next two years, due to slumping tourism and investments.

Although surveys have shown that the turnout in Sunday's election would be consistent with the past at more than 60 percent, some Montenegrins felt their ballots could not bring any change.

"I will not vote for the first time in a decade as both the regime and the opposition are clueless and have no real plans," said economist Sanja.

More than 1,200 international and local observers are to monitor the polls in which a total of 16 parties and coalitions are contesting for places in the parliament.

The first estimates will be given shortly after polling closes, while official early results are expected by midnight.

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