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Polls close in Montenegro parliamentary vote

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By Aleksandar Vasovic and Branko Filipovic

PODGORICA (Reuters) -Polls closed in Montenegro on Sunday after a snap election many hope will bring in a new government to implement economic reforms, improve infrastructure and take the NATO member state closer to European Union membership.

The vote is the first in the ex-Yugoslav republic since Milo Djukanovic, former leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), lost the presidential election in April and stepped down after 30 years in power.

First preliminary and unofficial results are expected about an hour after closing of the polls, on the basis of pollster projection of results from a representative sample of polling stations.

The state election commission will announce the final election results in coming days.

According to the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CEMI) polling organisation, voter turnout by 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) was 50.8%, down from 76.7% in 2020 vote.

“We are likely to witness the lowest ever turnout since the introduction of the multi-party system (in 1990)… voters are tired,” said Ana Nenezic, CEMI executive director.

There were few voting irregularities, she said.

Fifteen parties and alliances are vying for 81 parliamentary seats in the country of just over 620,000 people.

Montenegro remains sharply divided between those who identify as Montenegrins, and those who see themselves as Serbs and who remain opposed to the country’s 2006 split from a state union with neighbouring and much larger Serbia

A poll by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) last month put the Europe Now Movement (PES), a pro-European party led by former finance minister Milojko Spajic – which also favours closer ties with Serbia – in the lead with 29.1% of the vote. The PES’s Jakov Milatovic won the April presidential vote.

The CEDEM poll put the pro-EU DPS under acting chief Danijel Zivkovic in second place with 24.1% support, with the Serb nationalist, pro-Russia Democratic Front (DF) in third place on 13.2%.

Montenegro is a candidate to join the EU but it must first root out corruption, nepotism and organised crime.

The vote is expected to end a period of political deadlock in which two governments, that came to power on the back of 2020 protests backed by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, collapsed after no-confidence votes.

In 2017, Montenegro joined NATO, a year after a botched coup attempt that the then government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such claims as absurd and the Serbian government denied involvement.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Montenegro – unlike Serbia – joined EU sanctions against Moscow, sent aid to Ukraine, and expelled a number of Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, and Stevo Vasiljevic and Branko Filipovic in Podgorica; Editing by David Holmes and Ros Russell)

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