Montenegro's ruling party supporters protest after vote loss

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic speaks in his DPS party headquarters in Podgorica, Montenegro, early Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. 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. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic) (Risto Bozovic, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PODGORICA – Several thousand protesters waving Montenegro flags gathered in the capital on Sunday in a show of support for the ruling pro-Western party, which could lose power if the pro-Serb and pro-Russian groups manage to form a ruling coalition.

Although Montenegro’s long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists won the most votes in the Aug. 30 vote, a coalition of three opposition parties together narrowly won the most seats in the 81-seat parliament, enough for them to try form the next government.

Tensions have soared in the small Adriatic state since last week, when thousands of opposition party supporters staged boisterous victory celebrations throughout the small Balkan state. Participants waved Serbian flags and chanted derogatory slogans against Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic, despite appeals by opposition party leaders to refrain from provocations.

Djukanovic, who heads the ruling DPS party, has accused Serbian leaders and their powerful state propaganda of interfering in the election that was held after months of protests by supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church upset over a property rights dispute in Montenegro.

Djukanovic, who has ruled Montenegro for 30 years either as president or prime minister, has been a key Western ally in pushing the volatile Balkans toward a more pro-Western orientation. Djukanovic defied Russia in 2017 to lead his country into NATO after gaining independence from much larger Serbia in 2006.

There have been fears that an opposition-led government would mean a change in Montenegro’s stance and turn it away from NATO toward traditional allies Serbia and Russia.

The opposition leaders have sought to alleviate those fears. They have said they want to unify the divided nation by forming a government that would respect all international agreements and continue the reforms necessary for joining the European Union.