Montenegro's pro-Western president could struggle to put together a government after close, bitterly-contested election.
Montenegro's pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has secured 35% of votes in a tight and bitterly-contested parliamentary election, its worst result since the country won independence from Serbia 14 years ago.
Official results show the pro-Serbian opposition alliance on 32.5%, meaning that it could feasibly form a government if it can reach consensus with Montenegro's other two opposition parties. That would see the DPS lose control of power in the Balkan nation for the first time in 30 years.
President Milo Djukanovic, who has personally led Montenegro for three decades since Yugoslavia was dismantled in the early 1990s, said Monday that the DPS would respect the election results but claimed that it was "the strongest party in Montenegro."
Meanwhile, the leader of the pro-Serbian coalition, Zdravko Krivokapic, told supporters: "The regime has fallen."
Djukanovic's ruling DPS has governed Montenegro since 1991, leading the country to independence from Serbia in 2006 and towards membership of the European Union. Djukanovic took Montenegro into the transatlantic NATO alliance in 2017, in the face of vocal opposition from pro-Serb forces.
But it was a local issue that dominated the election this year. A row over the property rights of the Serbian Orthodox Church has pitted the pro-Western government against an alliance of pro-Serb and pro-Russian forces, led by the Democratic Front party.
In 2016, police uncovered a plot to stage a coup on election day, installing a pro-Russia and pro-Serb government in its place.
Prior to the vote, analysts told Euronews that the election in Montenegro was a "litmus test" for the wider Balkans, while data showed that the nation of 620,000 was more divided than ever on key issues such as membership of the European Union.
Sinisa Vukovic, a senior lecturer at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, said that the row over ownership of church property - and the election more generally - was about two competing visions for what Montenegro is, and where it is going.
"These are cleavages that have existed for decades, if not centuries, and now they are entrenched. Now it is a matter of: 'You are either with us or against us' - compromise may actually not be on the cards,” he said.
But while the opposition could now feasibly put together a governing coalition, it would bring together parties of divergent political views with little in common than opposition to the DPS generally, and to Djukanovic personally. It would only secure 41 out of the parliaments 81 seats.
Indicating high interest in the election, more than half of eligible voters had cast their ballots by midday. Lines formed outside some polling stations on a very hot summer day.
Opinion polls ahead of the election predicted the DPS ahead of other groups, though not with enough margin to form a government on its own.
Many other smaller parties - including those run by ethnic minorities - are also in the race, which is being held amid a new outbreak of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said the state would deal with any attempts to affect this election.
“This is the day when Montenegro decides to move strongly forward toward economic and general development — a Montenegro that is a member of the European Union and a reliable member of NATO," he added.