The political scene of Montenegro was turned upside down on Sunday evening April 2 by the defeat in the presidential election of veteran Milo Djukanovic, after three decades of reign in the tiny Balkan country, against newcomer Jakov Milatovic.
The outcome of the second round of the presidential election is decisive in this country bordering the Adriatic. It will weigh on early legislative elections convened for June 11 after months of blockage, with a censored government that only manages current affairs.
According to projections by the NGO CeMI covering almost all the polling stations, Jakov Milatovic, a 36-year-old pro-European economist, obtained around 60% of the vote, against 40% for his rival.
Over 30 years in power
“Montenegro has chosen and I respect this choice,” said the outgoing president, conceding defeat. “I want Milatovic to be a successful president because that will mean that Montenegro can be a successful country.”
In the streets of Podgorica and other towns across the country, supporters of the Europe Now candidate celebrated his victory by setting off fireworks and honking their horns. Milo Djukanovic has been a fixture on the Montenegrin political scene for more than 30 years, repeatedly serving as prime minister or president.
This is his biggest setback since the historic defeat of his party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), in the last legislative elections of 2020. Since then, the country has been going from crisis to crisis, with the fall of two governments.
Arrived at the controls in 1991
“I am convinced of my victory”, declared Jakov Milatovic while voting. “It will represent the final defeat of the symbol of the old regime” and “we will take a giant step towards a reconciled, richer, fairer Montenegro”.
Milo Djukanovic arrived at the helm in 1991 at the age of 29, supported by the strongman of Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic, at the start of the wars which consecrated the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
As Serbia became a pariah on the international stage, he was able to distance himself. He moved closer to the West, broke with Belgrade, won the independence of Montenegro in a referendum in 2006. His country joined NATO, became a candidate for the European Union and left the Russian sphere of influence.
Clientelism and corruption
But his critics accuse him of clientelism, generalized corruption and links with organized crime, which the person concerned strongly denies. “Tonight, together with all citizens, we said a decisive farewell to crime, corruption, and the links between crime, corruption and politics in Montenegro,” said Jakov Milatovic in his victory speech.
Milo Djukanovic led the campaign questioning the sincerity of his rival’s European roots and of “Europe now”, while accusing him of being vulnerable to Serbian interference. To which Jakov Milatovic replied that his “number one priority for Montenegro was full and complete membership of the European Union”. He also said he was in favor of “good relations with Serbia as with all the nations of the Western Balkans”.