By Stefan J. Bos
Supporters of several parties celebrated in the streets of Montenegro's capital Podgorica.
Official results indicated that Montenegro could experience its first-ever transfer of power through the ballot box. So far, this small mountainous nation near the Adriatic Sea had been ruled by the pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists or DPS.
The DPS still received roughly 35 percent of the ballots. But it was closely followed by its main pro-Serb and pro-Russia rivals, For the future of Montenegro, with nearly 33 percent. And analysts suggest they may be better positioned to find allies and have a workable majority to form the next government.
Opposition leader Zdravko Krivokapic already declared victory when meeting supporters. "People of Montenegro, freedom has happened after some thirty-one years," he said.
It comes after long-time Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic faced accusations of corruption, autocracy, and criminal links.
On Sunday, the election was also marked by a dispute over a religious rights law that is staunchly opposed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.
It fears the government wants to seize its properties in favor of an independent Montenegrin church, charges the government denies.
President Djukanociv admitted that his DPS party would face a tough battle to form the next government.
Djukanovic made clear late Sunday that his party is ready to respect and acknowledge any election outcome. But he expressed hope that the future government would keep Montenegro on track to join the European Union.
He already defied Russia in 2017 to lead his country into the NATO-military alliance, after gaining independence from much-larger Serbia in 2006.
However, the issues over corruption and religion have fueled divisions in this nation of 620,000 people.
The country remains split over relations with the West and traditional Slavic allies Serbia and Russia.