Both the ruling and the opposition parties have claimed victory in Montenegro’s presidential election, raising the prospect of a dispute over the largely ceremonial post in the tiny Adriatic country as it bids to join the European Union.
Based on his camp’s own vote-count, incumbent Filip Vujanovic said on Sunday that he had won 51.3 percent of the votes compared to 48.7 for opposition challenger Miodrag Lekic, a former diplomat.
“This is the winning result,” Vujanovic said in a televised address.
But the opposition candidate 65-year-old Lekic also claimed he was the rightful winner of the election.
“I can announce that the people of Montenegro have entrusted me with the post of president,” he said in a televised address.
There was no official word from the state electoral commission and official results were expected overnight.
The opposition Democratic Front said Lekic, who compared Vujanovic’s victory claim to a “coup d’etat”, was ahead according to its own count, with 50.5 percent compared to 49.5.
The prime minister controls the government in Montenegro, with the president largely a figurehead.
Vujanovic, 58, has held the largely ceremonial post since 2003. The country of 680,000 people became independent in 2006 when it narrowly voted to end an 88-year union with Serbia.
Lekic, backed by an opposition bloc that accuses the ruling DPS, of which Vujanovic is a member, of monopolising power in the interests of a corrupt elite.
The DPS, led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, has been in power since the collapse of federal Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It was re-elected in an election in October, despite an economic slump triggered by falling foreign investment.
Vujanovic, voting in the capital Podgorica earlier, pledged to help “intensify” Montenegro’s efforts to join the EU in talks that began in mid-2012.
Montenegro is next in line for EU membership behind fellow former Yugoslav republic Croatia, which joins in July. Serbia is a candidate for membership, but has yet to begin talks.
Vujanovic led in opinion polls with Lekic struggling to deflect accusations from the DPS that he is weak on the issue of Montenegrin statehood. Lekic is backed by a number of small parties that campaigned against voiding the union with Serbia.
Seven years since Montenegro split from Serbia, elections continue to be decided largely on the issue of statehood. The DPS has warned voters that Lekic and the opposition cannot be trusted to strengthen Montenegrin sovereignty.