Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has issued a decree to dissolve parliament, days before a presidential election.
The move on Thursday came as a three-month legal deadline expired for former top diplomat and prime minister-designate Miodrag Lekic to form a government.
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According to the country’s constitution, an election should be called a day after the parliament is dissolved. The president must set a date for a new parliamentary vote 60 to 100 days after the decree.
The parliament was dismissed before Montenegrins were due to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president. Djukanovic, who has held high-ranking political posts in Montenegro for the past 30 years, is one of seven candidates.
Montenegro’s political turmoil has worsened since the parliamentary elections in 2020, in which Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists suffered a historic defeat by a church-backed coalition.
Two governments have collapsed since, the last one in August, which nonetheless stayed on, kicking off a wave of protests and calls for snap elections.
Although Montenegro’s president has a largely ceremonial role, analysts see Sunday’s vote as a potential turning point in the country’s political woes.
Djukanovic, the architect of Montenegro’s independence from Serbia in 2006, remains the favourite. However, he is a controversial figure who has been accused of corruption, links to organised crime and attacks on independent journalists – charges he denies.
The 61-year-old will face strong competition, notably from Andrija Mandic, the candidate of the pro-Russian Democratic Front.
The other two main rivals are Jakov Milatovic, a young economist from the increasingly popular Europe Now Movement, and the leader of the centre-right Democrats.
If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will be held on April 2, which is a likely outcome.
The country of 620,000 people, a third of whom identify as Serbs, is a NATO member and aspires to join the European Union.
Over the years, Montenegro has been divided between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who see themselves as Serbs and oppose the country’s independence from Serbia.