Newcomer Milatovic defeats incumbent Djukanovic in race for Montenegro’s presidency

Newcomer Milatovic defeats incumbent Djukanovic in race for Montenegro’s presidency
Jakov Milatovic took around 60% of the vote on April 2. / Europe Now
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia April 2, 2023

Milo Djukanovic, the veteran politician who has ruled Montenegro for over 30 years, has conceded defeat after the second round of the presidential election on April 2. 

Djukanovic faced his first ever personal loss in the presidential race, with newcomer Jakov Milatovic getting around 60% of the votes in the runoff 2, exit polls indicated.

The 37-year-old deputy-leader of the Europe Now party was supported by all opposition candidates in the second round of the presidential vote, and is set to become the first president not belonging to Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in the country’s history.

The turnout on April 2 was high, at 70.5%, according to the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) NGO.

CeMi commented that Milatovic got a particularly highly level of support in the capital Podgorica, where he got 67.9% of the votes.

Djukanovic congratulated his rival and said he respects the will of the people.

“Montenegro has chosen and I respect this choice and I wish him [Milatovic] to be a successful president. If he is a successful president, then Montenegro will also be successful,” Djukanovic said.

Milatovic’s victory took people out on the streets for mass celebrations with fireworks in front of Europe Now’s headquarters in the capital Podgorica. There were celebrations in other towns across the country as well. 

"I shall be a president of all of you. You will never again be divided, made poor and the country will not be a slave of criminals and corruption,” Milatovic said in his first statement live broadcasted by RTCG.

“This is a victory of reconciliation, victory of all of us. Montenegro took a decisive step forward and said a strong goodbye to Milo Djukanovic’s outdated regime. Montenegro has taken a step forward towards Europe,” he added. 

The young politician became popular while holding the position of economy minister in the government of Zdravko Krivokapic – the first government without the participation of the DPS formed by a coalition of 20 parties after the August 2020 general election.

Milatovic and Europe Now’s leader, Milojko Spajic, later became the new rising stars in Montenegro’s politics. The party, set up in the spring of 2022, beat the DPS in 11 out of 14 municipalities that held local elections in autumn last year.

The two politicians were the authors of the Europe Now programme of reforms that envisaged a significant increase of wages and pensions in the country.

After the collapse of Krivokapic’s government, the two young politicians decided to start their own political project named after the reform programme. Pro-Western and determined to push Montenegro towards EU membership, the party has emerged as the new alternative to the DPS – a party that is also oriented towards the West but was burdened by a number of corruption scandals over the years.

Initially, Europe Now nominated Spajic as its presidential candidate. However, he was disqualified due to suspicions he has Serbian citizenship. Montenegrin law does not allow people with dual citizenship to run for the presidency.

Spajic’s disqualification by the central election body, DIK, was quick and did not wait for the completion of a probe launched by the Ministry of Interior. This gave food to speculation that DIK’s decision was influenced by the DPS as Spajic was seen as a serious threat to Djukanovic. DIK members representing the Democratic Front also voted to disqualify Spajic.

Shortly after that, Europe Now nominated Milatovic. However, his campaign did not go smoothly. In Cetinje, Montenegro’s old capital, a group of people attacked Milatovic on his way to a pre-election gathering. He was not wounded, but Europe Now claimed the group was organised by the DPS, though the DPS denied this. Another group of people, also accused of being supporters of the DPS, attempted to prevent Milatovic’s meeting with supporters in the town of Niksic over the last campaign weekend.