PODGORICA -- A coalition led by the pro-Serbian Democratic Front (DF) and two other opposition coalitions have claimed victory over the ruling pro-Western party in parliamentary elections.
For the Future of Montenegro, together with the coalitions Peace is our Nation and Black and White, won 41 of 81 seats in the Balkan country's elections on August 30, according to preliminary unofficial results released by the Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI) monitoring organization. The unofficial result is based on 88.4 percent of ballots from a sample of polling stations, CEMI said.
The preliminary unofficial results show the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the Bosniak and Albanian National Minority Party, the Social Democrat Ivan Brajovic, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) among the parties claiming the remaining seats.
CEMI Director Zlatko Vujovic noted that the results were unofficial but likely to be confirmed.
"Three opposition coalitions that have announced cooperation after the elections -- For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is our Nation, and Black and White -- will have at least 41 mandates,” Vujovic said. "This is something that, most likely, will not be questioned, but we should wait for the State Election Commission."
That did not stop Zdravko Krivokapic, the leader of For the Future of Montenegro coalition, which wants closer ties with Serbia and Russia, from claiming victory.
"The regime has fallen," Krivokapic said. "People of Montenegro, freedom has happened!"
President Milo Djukanovic, leader of the DPS, which has governed Montenegro for 30 years, said his party will respect the results but did not concede.
"The struggle for the majority of parliamentary seats in the Montenegrin parliament is still going on," Djukanovic said. "We will wait for the final count and the official results to see which of the two political sides will have the decisive 41st mandate."
Djukanovic expressed hope that whoever forms the next government, Montenegro will remain on a path to join the European Union.
Election authorities said the turnout was nearly 75 percent.
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.
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 EU for membership in 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.
The political future of Djukanovic, who has overseen Montenegro's efforts to qualify for EU membership, could be at stake, though Djukanovic is not up for reelection for three more years.
The elections are the 11th since a multiparty system was established in Montenegro and the fifth since the country regained independence in 2006.
More than 2,000 observers, including 265 foreign monitors, followed the election. Some irregularities, such as voters lacking identification cards, were reported.