|Milo Djukanoic. Photo: BIRN.|
The leadership of the Montenegro’s ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, decided on Monday that Milo Djukanovic will be its candidate in the April presidential election, when Filip Vujanovic will step down.
Djukanovic reportedly beat Milica Pejanovic Durisic in the interparty election, after a guessing game that preoccupied the Montenegrin media for the week.
For the first time since the party was found in 1991, the decision to support Djukanovic came just days before the final deadline to officially verify the candidacy expired.
In earlier elections, the name of the candidate was known months in advance.
The DPS seemed reluctant for months to decide who to field in the April election, fuelling speculation about divisions in the party over important issues, including the presidential candidate.
Veteran leader Milo Djukanovic’s name, and that of Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic, were in circulation for weeks as potential candidates, allegedly supported by the opposing factions in the party; the party leadership denied claims about a row.
A university professor, Pejanovic-Djurisic served as defence minister until 2016 and earlier as Montenegro’s ambassador to the US.
She entered politics back in the days when the DPS cherished close ties with Serbia and with then Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Opposition media described her as the “US choice” for the presidency, which Pejanovic-Djurisic declined to comment.
Djukanovic officially retired from politics after the DPS won the 2016 general elections.
He had led the country for over 25 years, remains leader of the DPS, and would be its number-one choice in the election.
Some ascribed his hesitation to run to the opposition of some Western countries to the prospect of his return to high office.
In an op-ed article on January 22, US-based analyst and Balkan expert Janusz Bugajski criticised alleged “attempts by some Western embassies to sideline Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s most important political figure”, calling them “a short-sighted strategic mistake”.
“One cannot assume that because Montenegro joined NATO, its security problems are fully resolved. The Kremlin, together with Serbian nationalists, will continue to undermine the state and without a proven pro-Western leadership, opportunities for destabilization will expand,” he wrote.
The presidential elections on April 15 will be the third such election since Montenegro regained its independence in 2006.
The outcome is far from certain as a former politician, Mladen Bojanic, will run as an independent candidate on April 15, with the support of almost all opposition parties in parliament.
This development brings together normally divided opposition groups and may increase their chances of winning the election against an unknown ruling party candidate.
Bojanic will be supported by the strongest opposition alliance, the pro-Russian Democratic Front, and by possibly four other pro-European parties.
Incumbent President Filip Vujanovic has served two consecutive five-year terms since Montenegro became an independent nation and cannot run again.
He was already in office when the country split from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, having served in the office since 2003.