Montenegro was braced for more political chaos ahead of a critical vote in parliament on Friday that will either oust the country's prime minister or pave the way for new elections.
On Tuesday, the country's embattled prime minister, Zdravko Krivokapic, warned his government was on the brink of collapse and called for fresh elections in the divided Balkan nation, an aspiring EU member state.
He faces a vote of no confidence led by his former coalition partners, United Reform Action, a liberal party led by deputy prime minister Dritan Abazović with just three seats in parliament.
But Krivokapic, who came to power at the head of a broad coalition in August 2020 that included pro-Serbian and pro-Russian parties as well as liberals and minority groups, has claimed that Montenegro's president, Milo Djukanovic, and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is behind the effort to replace him.
Djukanovic ruled Montenegro for more than 30 years and took the country to independence from Serbia in 2006 and into NATO in 2017, against furious objections from Moscow - as well as from within Montenegro, where the decision led to street protests.
More protests followed Djukanovic's bid to force the Serbian Orthodox Church to register its vast land-holdings in Montenegro, a row that galvanised the opposition - led by Krivokapic - to oust the DPS in 2020.
Krivokapic warned on Tuesday that if his government failed, “the concentration of political power would transfer into the hands of the defeated DPS and its president”.
“I call on those who accuse me of defending my own position to return their mandates to the citizens and check the legitimacy of their new political platform at an early parliamentary election,” Krivokapic said.
Despite Krivokapic's intervention, the URA is likely to succeed in its effort to replace him on Friday, with polls suggesting that most of Montenegro's parties, including the DPS, would lose seats if elections were held.
However, Abazović will fall short of a majority in Montenegro's 81-seat parliament and will be forced to form a minority government.
The ongoing political drama in Montenegro will likely continue to impede the country's EU accession, which is favoured by all political parties and a significant majority of Montenegrins.