Montenegro voted yesterday to choose a government that will lead EU entry talks for the tiny Balkans country currently in the grip of a deep economic crisis.
Polling stations opened at 7am, but only a handful of voters braved the rain on a cold autumn day in the capital, Podgorica.
The ruling center-left coalition led by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), led by former Montenegrin prime minister Milo Djukanovic, called the elections six months before the official end of its mandate after the EU opened accession talks in June.
The latest opinion polls show that the DPS is heading for its third win in as many elections since Montenegro’s independence from decades-long partner Serbia in 2006, despite the current economic crisis.
After voting in a polling station in central Podgorica, 50-year-old electrician Rajko Vukcevic, who runs his own business, said he backed Djukanovic.
“Montenegro is going forward to the European Union, and I believe that we have to trust those who led us toward this great goal,” he said.
Surveys put Djukanovic’s coalition ahead with 47 percent of the votes compared with 40 percent for the opposition.
Djukanovic is the only leader in the volatile Balkans whose party has survived and won every election since the start of the bloody wars of the 1990s. Since independence he has served twice as prime minister and was president from 1998 to 2002.
The opposition, united in the Democratic Front coalition led by former Montenegrin foreign minister Miodrag Lekic, has tried to hit the ruling party in its weak spots: an unemployment rate at 20 percent and ongoing claims of government corruption.
“I am fed-up with empty promises. For 20 years, the same situation, the same people, the same promises, but no results. The time has come for change,” Sreten Pejovic, a 45-year-old construction worker from Podgorica, said after voting for the opposition.
In its annual progress report, the European Commission said that Montenegro, which has about 625,000 inhabitants, has implemented key economic reforms, but said it should make more efforts to uphold the rule of law and fight organized crime and corruption.
Montenegro’s economy grew by 2.7 percent last year, with the government forecasting an expansion of just 0.5 percent this year.