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Veteran, novice face off in Montenegro’s presidential vote

#Veteran #novice #face #Montenegros #presidential #vote

Sunday’s presidential run-off in Montenegro will pit an establishment incumbent against a rising political star.

On one side is Milo Djukanovic, who has dominated Montenegro’s political scene for more than three decades, and on the other is pro-European political upstart Jakov Milatovic. 

Here is a brief rundown on the two candidates. 

– Djukanovic, the veteran –

Considered the father of the Montenegrin nation by some and accused of being a corrupt autocrat by his detractors, Djukanovic has been a key figure in the tiny Balkan country for more than 30 years.

The 61-year-old was installed at the helm of the former Yugoslav republic in 1991 by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic when he was just 29.

But as Serbia increasingly became an international pariah, Djukanovic pivoted West, broke ties with Belgrade and helped oversee Montenegro’s independence in 2006.

In the years since, he launched the country’s move to begin the process of joining the European Union, and led it to join the NATO alliance in 2017.   

But even as he embraced the West, Djukanovic paved the way for Chinese economic influence, while Montenegro remained an attractive destination for Russian oligarchs and dissidents alike.   

Over the decades, Djukanovic has ruled as prime minister seven times and served as president twice, as he accumulated vast influence over the country’s private sector. 

But in recent years, Djukanovic’s allure has begun to fade. 

During the last parliamentary elections in 2020, his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) lost its majority in the legislature for the first time. Its recent performance in municipal polls has also been lacklustre. 

Djukanovic’s critics have long accused him of ruling by division. 

But he has presented his time at the country’s helm as a period of stability, serving as a fierce defender of the Montenegrin nation against Serbian interlopers, pro-Russian elements and the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church. 

Allegations of corruption have also marred his career, including accusations he played a role in a cigarette-smuggling ring between Montenegro and Italy in a case that was eventually dropped. 

Djukanovic has repeatedly denied fostering any links to organised crime or stashing money abroad in hidden accounts.

“No one, not even the most malicious, will be able to find anything that I have done to the detriment of the state and the law,” he said recently.

– Milatovic, the challenger –

Milatovic made headlines as minister of economic development in the first non-DPS-ruled government, formed after the 2020 parliamentary elections.

The 36-year-old father-of-three gained popularity with a controversial economic programme that, among other things, doubled the minimum wage.

To his admirers, Milatovic represents “the face of change and hope” looking to shake up the establishment, while his opponents see him as a populist with links to Serbian and Russian parties.

In 2022, he helped co-found the Europe Now party that scored well in the last municipal elections, including in the capital Podgorica. 

An economist by training, Milatovic has extensive international experience, including stints in the United States and across Europe.

Before entering politics, he worked at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt and at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London.

As a minister, he earned a reputation for his skills as a technocrat, while his rivals fired off accusations that he was impatient and arrogant.

Like his opponent, he is pro-European and supported Montenegro’s independence and its bid to join the EU.

But even though he has cheered a European future, Milatovic has also advocated for closer ties with neighbouring Serbia.

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