Montenegro’s ruling party has won the most votes in a crucial parliamentary election, according to projections, but without enough votes to govern alone.
Unofficial results after 80 percent of the ballots had been counted showed that Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists got a little more than 40 percent of the vote – more than double than that of the main opposition Democratic Front.
Polls closed at 18:00 GMT, and according to Al Jazeera’s Milica Marinovic, who is reporting from the capital Podgorica, the voter turnout was more than 70 percent, slightly higher than the previous parliamentary election in 2012.
Sunday’s tense election was marked by the arrest of 20 Serbs accused of planning to carry out armed attacks after the closing of the polls.
Authorities said those arrested planned to collect automatic weapons to attack state institutions, police and possibly state officials following Sunday’s key vote that could determine whether Montenegro continues on its western course or turns back to traditional ally Russia.
The prosecutor’s office said that the group of Serbs, who were arrested on Saturday, planned to assault people who would gather in front of the parliament when the vote results were proclaimed, then storm the building in Podgorica and declare the victory “of certain parties” in the election.
The statement said the group of Serbs also planned to arrest Djukanovic.
Slavko Stojanovic, the director of police, said they were charged of “arming a criminal organisation and terrorism”. He said one Serbian is still on the run.
The announcement came amid the crucial Sunday polls, which pitted Djukanovic’s party against a cluster of pro-Russian and pro-Serbian opposition groups that staunchly oppose the government’s pro-western policies, especially its bid to join NATO.
The pro-Russian opposition heavily criticised the announcement of the arrests as propaganda, while Serbian Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he had no information about the incident.
Fears of violence
There have been fears that violence could erupt on the streets of Podgorica between opposition and government supporters, after the results of Sunday’s vote are announced.
The government said hackers had attacked several websites, including that of the ruling party.
Djukanovic’s ruling party faces a tough test in the polls, hoping its promise to bring the country into NATO and closer to the European Union, will outweigh allegations of corruption.
The opposition said accusations that they are funded by Russia are false and a smokescreen to cover the corruption during Djukanovic’s more than a quarter century rule.
NATO invited the tiny Balkan country of 650,000 to join last year, partly out of concern about Russian influence in Montenegro, which has strong cultural and commercial links to its traditional Orthodox Christian ally.
A lack of reliable polls makes the election hard to call, but long-term allies have deserted Djukanovic, suggesting the message from opposition parties may have traction.
The former Yugoslav republic’s economy has grown at a brisk 3.2 percent a year for the past decade, thanks mainly to foreign investment, much of it from Russia as well as China and Italy, targeting energy, mining and tourism in a country famed for its spectacular mountains and sea coast.
At an opposition rally in the capital Podgorica on Saturday, hundreds of backers of the Democratic Front, an alliance of pro-Serb and pro-western parties, waved Serb, Russian and Montenegrin flags, chanting their campaign slogan “Us or Him”.
“Djukanovic, step down peacefully on Sunday if you love Montenegro,” said Nebojsa Medojevic, a pro-western politician and one of the Democratic Front’s leaders.