An Oxford-educated economist won Sunday’s presidential runoff in Montenegro according to an official vote count, after he rallied voters fed up with more than three decades of political dominance by incumbent Milo Djukanovic.
Jakov Milatovic, a 36-year-old former banker, got 58.9% of votes, compared with 41.1% for Djukanovic, according to an official tally by Montenegro’s State Election Commission.
A relative newcomer who co-founded a political party only last year, Milatovic promised renewed economic reforms and pledged to root out corruption to bring the NATO member state of 620,000 people closer to European Union membership.
“This is a victory of reconciliation, a triumph for all of us,” Milatovic told supporters in the capital Podgorica late Sunday. “Montenegro has made a step forward to a European, more beautiful and more just Montenegro.”
The outcome sets the stage for general elections in June that may further erode the influence of Djukanovic, who has served almost continuously as president or premier since 1991. It may also resolve a political deadlock in the tourism-dependent economy, which suffered one of Europe’s worst economic contractions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Two successive governments collapsed last year amid infighting among lawmakers in Montenegro’s parliament, and the country has been run by a caretaker cabinet for more than six months.
Milatovic, who has worked for Deutsche Bank, the EBRD and Slovenia-based NLB, also pledged to keep Montenegro aligned with EU policies, even as he wooed voters who cherish the country’s historic ties with Russia.
The influential Serbian Orthodox Church, the biggest denomination in Montenegro, also endorsed him after recurring disputes with Djukanovic.
Originally a Communist and an ally of Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic became a pro-Western leader who ditched close ties with Russia and now supports sanctions on the Kremlin over the invasion of Ukraine.
During his campaign, Djukanovic warned of threats to Montenegro’s sovereignty from nationalism toward Serbia, even as Montenegro’s former federation partner and much bigger neighbor remains his country’s top trading partner.
With similar messages to voters in 2020 parliamentary elections, his party lost that ballot to a motley alliance ranging from conservative and pro-Serbian to pro-Western and liberal groups.
Djukanovic conceded defeat but indicated that he won’t be quitting politics.
“A multi-ethnic, civic and European Montenegro remains my love and what I’ll be dedicated to until the end of my life,” he told reporters late Sunday.
A parliamentary election on June 11 will pit Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists against Europe Now, co-founded last year by Milatovic with former finance minister Milojko Spajic, once a Goldman Sachs credit analyst.
While in government from late 2020 until April 2022, the two oversaw a tax reform and a rise in public wages, despite criticism that it would undermine state finances.
–With assistance from Jasmina Kuzmanovic.