Montenegro’s long-ruling leader Milo Djukanovic acknowledged defeat to Jakov Milatovic.
Montenegro’s former Economy Minister Jakov Milatovic has declared victory in a presidential election run-off, ahead of longstanding incumbent Milo Djukanovic.
“Tonight is the night we have been waiting for over 30 years,” Milatovic told cheering supporters of his right-centrist Europe Now Movement at its party headquarters in Podgorica on Sunday.
“Within the next five years, we will lead Montenegro into the European Union,” he said.
Montenegro’s long-ruling leader Djukanovic acknowledged his defeat to Milatovic.
“Montenegro has made its choice. I respect that choice, and I congratulate Jakov Milatovic,” Djukanovic, who will remain at his post until the handover on May 21, told his backers at the headquarters of his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Podgorica.
Djukanovic has been a political mainstay in Montenegro for decades, rotating through various positions – including multiple stints as both president and prime minister.
The run-off came two weeks after the first round, where Djukanovic beat back a range of opponents hoping to shake up the political scene. In that race, Djukanovic garnered 35 percent of the vote compared with 29 percent for Milatovic.
Sunday’s loss represents one of the biggest setbacks for Djukanovic since he first took the helm of the former Yugoslav republic in 1991 and later oversaw its declaration of independence in 2006.
His defeat will likely weigh heavily on the balance of power in the Balkan nation ahead of snap parliamentary elections due in June, following months of gridlock after the government collapsed in August in the wake of a no-confidence vote.
Montenegro’s president, elected for a five-year term, has a mostly ceremonial position, and most of the political power resides with the prime minister.
In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, Milatovic appeared to capture the eagerness of young voters looking for an injection of fresh faces into the country’s leadership. He was also favoured in surveys.
Milatovic made political headlines as minister of economic development after the 2020 parliamentary elections, which resulted in the first government not ruled by the DPS.
A father of three, he made his mark with a controversial economic programme that, among other things, doubled the minimum wage.
Still, the minimum wage is just 450 euros ($490) a month in the tiny country, which remains heavily reliant on tourism thanks to its picturesque beaches along the Adriatic and its rugged mountains.
The DPS, on the other hand, has witnessed repeated setbacks since the party suffered its first major defeat in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Since then, Montenegro has stumbled from crisis to crisis that has seen the collapse of two governments.
Under the leadership of Djukanovic and his party, Montenegro joined NATO, kick-started the negotiating process for EU membership and moved away from Russia’s influence.