PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro's governing coalition has won the most votes in a parliamentary election Sunday and is set to stay in power after having ruled the Balkan country for more than two decades amid economic troubles and allegations of crime and corruption, according to unofficial results.
Sunday's vote — the third since Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006 — was held as the country seeks membership in the European Union and battles an economic downturn.
The European Montenegro coalition, led by the tiny nation's powerful ruler, Milo Djukanovic, has won 45.6 percent of the vote, or 39 out of 81 seats in the future parliament, according to the results released by Center for Monitoring group which counted nearly 95 percent of the ballots.
"This is a great victory," Djukanovic said late on Sunday. "Montenegro's ruling coalition is a rare one in Europe that has maintained confidence of voters in such difficult times of crisis."
The lead opposition Democratic Front was second with 23. 7 percent, or 20 parliamentary seats, followed by the pro-Serb Socialist People's Party with 10.5 percent of the vote, or nine seats, the monitors said. Official results are not expected before Monday.
Analysts said the ruling coalition — which has kept a grip on power in Montenegro since the 1990's — will not be able to govern alone, but will have to seek support from minority groups in parliament, who have won about half a dozen parliamentary seats.
The head of the Center for Monitoring, Zlatko Vujovic, said that "chances for such a coalition are quite real, as they were coalition partners many times in the past."
Nonetheless, the main opposition leader Miodrag Lekic declared that the elections marked the "beginning of the end" of Montenegro's governing coalition.
Djukanovic's group led Montenegro peacefully to independence and has opened accession talks with the European Union this year. Critics have accused his government of corruption and crime — allegations Djukanovic has repeatedly denied.
Djukanovic was at one point under investigation by Italian prosecutors who have suspected his government of a multi-million-dollar cigarette smuggling operation during the international embargo imposed on Serb-led Yugoslavia during the warmongering in the 1990s.
Montenegro's opposition has failed in every attempt to unseat Djukanovic since he became the youngest prime minister in Europe in 1991 at the age of 29. Djukanovic's opponents have also failed to capitalize on the economic downturn that has followed the boom in the first post-independence years.
Unemployment in Montenegro currently stands at more than 12 percent and the average salary is around €480 ($620).
Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.