PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro’s parliament handed Milo Djukanovic a seventh term as prime minister on Tuesday, and he promised to pay “special attention” to fighting the organized crime and corruption which is rife in the EU hopeful.
Djukanovic has served as prime minister or president for all but three of the past 21 years, through the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the dissolution of Montenegro’s 88-year union with Serbia in 2006.
In coalition with the smaller Social Democratic Party, Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) held onto power in an election last month, but lost its outright majority for the first time in 11 years due to a stalling economy and persistent allegations of graft and cronyism.
The 81-seat parliament approved the government in a 44-26 vote. One deputy abstained and 10 did not vote.
Djukanovic will lead a coalition with the Social Democrats and representatives of Montenegro’s ethnic minorities. The coalition will control 43 of the assembly’s 81 seats.
The mountainous country of 680,000 people is next in line behind Croatia among the former republics of Yugoslavia to join the European Union, but is under pressure to root out endemic corruption and deep-rooted organised crime.
Croatia is due to join the 27-member EU in July 2013. The bloc officially launched talks with Montenegro in June, but the process could take years. Serbia is a candidate for membership but has yet to start talks.
“A JUST STATE”
“The building of a just state and the fight against corruption and organised crime will be the object of this government’s special attention,” Djukanovic told parliament before his cabinet was elected.
“Gross domestic product is far below expectations because we are not using our potential,” he said. “To meet expectations, we must strengthen the rule of law, transparency and responsibility.”
The opposition said it saw little new in the line-up or policy.
“This policy is a continuation of the previous government‘s, which failed to produce results,” said Darko Pajovic, leader of the opposition Positive Montenegro bloc. “The people being put forward here as ministers were part of the problem in the past.”
Accusations of crime and corruption have dogged Montenegro’s ruling elite since the war years around Yugoslavia’s collapse in the 1990s, when the tiny republic filled its coffers with the proceeds of large-scale cigarette smuggling.
With independence in 2006, the economy took off on the back of foreign investment and tourism. The country is a particularly popular destination for Russians.
But foreign investment has tailed off since the onset of the crisis in the euro zone, and - shackled with the debts of its vital aluminum exporter - the economy will struggle to eke out 0.5 percent growth this year.
Djukanovic last held the post of prime minister until December 2010, but diplomats say he continued to hold the reins of power as leader of the DPS.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Louise Ireland