PODGORICA – Montenegro's pro-Serb and Russian opposition groups claimed victory against the ruling pro-Western party in a tense parliamentary election that could see a change in the course of the small Balkan state.
The unofficial tally showed that the two camps were running-neck-and-neck, although they also indicate that the opposition has a bigger chance to form a coalition that will rule the tiny Adriatic country and unseat the Democratic Party of Socialists that has been in power for 30 years.
The election was marked by by a dispute over a law on religious rights that is staunchly opposed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church. The issue has fueled divisions in the nation of 620,000 people that has defied its traditional Slavic allies Serbia and Russia to become independent in 2006 and join NATO in 2017.
Showing high interest in the election, some 75% of eligible 540,000 voters had cast their ballots by the closure of the polling stations, the state electoral commission said. Lines formed outside some polling stations on a very hot summer day.
“The regime has fallen,” said Zdravko Krivokapic, the leader of the opposition For the Future of Montenegro coalition after a vote count by the Center for Monitoring and Research, an independent group.
Claiming victory, Krivokapic said: “People of Montenegro, freedom has happened!”
An independent monitoring body said that with nearly all of the vote counted, the ruling party had about 35% percent while the main opposition group had about 33%, but with a greater potential to form a ruling coalition with allied opposition groups.
Complete official results were expected Monday.