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Montenegro Awaits Results In Elections Testing Pro-Western Government

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Voters at a polling station in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro

Montenegro's citizens cast their votes on August 30 for a host of coalitions and parties competing in parliamentary elections, with the outcome too close to call.

Neither the long-ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) nor the leading opposition pro-Russian and pro-Serbian Democratic Front (DF) is tipped to win a majority in the 81-seat parliament.

Election authorities said the turnout was nearly 75 percent as of 7 p.m. local time, up from 71.6 percent at the same time during the previous general vote four years ago. Polls closed at 8 p.m. local time. Observers reported some irregularities, such as voters lacking identification cards.

The dominant theme of the campaign, which was mainly conducted online and on social media because of the coronavirus pandemic, was a religious law that the Serbian Orthodox Church says would strip the church of its property in the country.

Montenegro's President Votes In Parliamentary Elections
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The law, which came into force in January, says religious communities must prove property ownership from before 1918, the year when Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and its church was subsumed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, losing all of its property in the process.

The Serbian Orthodox Church says the law is aimed at retaking its property and has held daily protests against it. Montenegrin officials have repeatedly denied the allegations.

Montenegro split from Serbia in a referendum in 2006 and further turned away from Belgrade and its Orthodox ally Russia, taking a pro-Western course and joining NATO in 2017.

The country has also been negotiating steps toward getting an official invitation from the European Union for membership to the bloc.

Serbian nationalists in both countries have never fully recognized Serbia's separation from Montenegro, which they claim is a historic Serbian territory.

During the campaign, the support of the Serbian Orthodox Church was seen as a driving force behind some opposition parties, primarily the DF. The government directed the brunt of its campaign at the church and the opposition that supports it.

After voting in the capital, Podgorica, President Milo Djukanovic told reporters he expected a majority of Montenegrin voters will opt for the country's "European future."

The political future of Djukanovic, who leads the DPS and who has overseen Montenegro's efforts to qualify for EU membership, could be at stake in the election. Though Djukanovic is not up for reelection for three more years, his party has been in power for 30 years in various coalitions. Prime Minister Dusko Markovic is the first in its electoral list.

The DF is led by university professor Zdravko Krivokapic, a nonpartisan figure. High on its electoral list is Marko Milacic, who has led an anti-NATO campaign in previous years and who is known for burning the alliance's flags on a few occasions.

The elections are the 11th since a multiparty system was established in Montenegro and the fifth since the country regained independence in 2006.

An electorate of more than 540,000 had the opportunity to vote. More than 2,000 observers, including 265 foreign observers, are following the elections.

Among the parties in power that also are contesting in the elections are the Social Democrats, the Bosniak Party, two coalitions of the ethnic Albanian parties and two parties of the Croatian national minority.

The DF is the main constituent of the coalition For the Future of Montenegro. Other opposition coalitions are Peace is Our Nation and the Black on White list. The Social Democratic Party is running on its own.

Local elections also are being held in a handful of municipalities along the coast and in the north of the country.

The elections are taking place amid an economic crisis in the country caused by coronavirus restrictions that have reduced Montenegro's tourism revenues by 90 percent this year

With reporting by Reuters
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