Early projections of election results at Montenegro‚Äôs presidential run-off vote have suggested that economy expert and political novice Jakov Milatovic has won, defeating the pro-Western incumbent in the small Nato member nation located on Europe‚Äôs Balkan peninsula.
Mr Milatovic won around 60% while Milo Djukanovic won around 40%, according to predictions released by the usually reliable Centre for Monitoring and Research and based on partial vote sample. Official results are not expected before Monday.
Analysts said the results could change slightly as the vote count progresses, but that the gap between the two is too wide for major changes.
‚ÄúThis result is an indicator that the final result won‚Äôt be substantially different,‚ÄĚ said the group analyst Ana Nenezic.
Mr Milatovic‚Äôs victory is believed to reflect voter fatigue with Mr Djukanovic and disillusionment with established politicians. Mr Milatovic, 36, first entered politics in 2020 after earning his education in Britain and the United States.
But critics say Mr Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists have let crime and corruption engulf society.
The DPS was ousted from power in a 2020 parliamentary vote but Mr Djukanovic has remained in office until his five-year mandate finished.
His defeat on Sunday means that both he and his party will be in opposition for the first time since late 1980s.
Sunday‚Äôs run-off vote was scheduled after none of the contenders won a majority in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Some 540,000 people were eligible to vote.
Montenegro has a population of 620,000 and borders Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and the Adriatic Sea.
The outcome of Sunday‚Äôs election is likely to reflect on an early parliamentary election set for June 11. That vote was scheduled because of a months-long government deadlock that stalled Montenegro‚Äôs pending European Union membership and alarmed the West as war rages in Ukraine.
Though Mr Milatovic‚Äôs Europe Now group is formally not part of the ruling coalition, his presidential candidacy won backing from the shaky alliance that includes parties that advocate closer ties with neighbouring Serbia and Russia.
Mr Milatovic has said that Montenegro‚Äôs EU integration remains a priority for him and his party. He has denied Mr Djukanovic‚Äôs allegations that the governing coalition was pushing Montenegro back under Serbia‚Äôs influence.
With Mr Milatovic‚Äôs triumph, his Europe Now movement could also find itself in a position to dominate the next government after June‚Äôs parliamentary election.
Europe Now emerged after the first government that resulted from the 2020 parliamentary election collapsed.
As the economy minister in that government, Mr Milatovic gained popularity by increasing salaries but critics say this was done at the cost of the already depleted health system and not as an outcome of reform.