World Bulletin / News Desk
Montenegro's parliament on Monday voted in a close ally of longtime leader Milo Djukanovic as the country's new premier, despite a boycott by opposition parties.
Former spy chief Dusko Markovic replaces Djukanovic, who announced following elections in October that he would step down as premier after more than 25 years at the helm.
Markovic, 58, pledged to complete the small Balkan country's accession to NATO and speed up the path to EU membership, despite opposition from pro-Russian groups.
The new premier has the support of a narrow majority -- 41 MPs in the 81-seat parliament -- made up of his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), a small social democrat party and ethnic minority groups.
Opposition MPs did not attend Monday's vote, refusing to endorse the election results until an investigation is completed into mysterious events surrounding polling day.
The October vote was marred by the arrest of a group of Serbians accused of planning anti-government attacks in Montenegro, and Djukanovic accused pro-Russian opponents of involvement in an alleged plot to "execute" him.
The Democratic Front, the country's main opposition bloc, denies this and said the arrests were DPS propaganda.
The Democratic Front openly calls for closer ties with Russia and Serbia and is against membership of either the EU or NATO, calling for a referendum on joining the US-led military alliance.
Other opposition groups have more nuanced positions -- some are pro-EU but would also like a referendum on NATO.
Markovic rejected such a referendum and said he wanted parliament to ratify joining the alliance "without delay".
NATO invited Montenegro to become a member in December, a decision that has upset traditional Slavic ally Russia.
Markovic said his government would also "try to overcome misunderstandings in our relations with historic ally Russia".
Born in July 1958, Markovic graduated from a Serbian law faculty and, like Djukanovic, began his political life in the Communist party when Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia.
Djukanovic became premier in 1991 and the bond between the two men was cemented five years later when Markovic supported the PM's decision to break with Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The decision would lead to Montenegro's independence a decade later.
Markovic's allegiance allowed him to climb the ladder of power and hold key ministerial positions and, for 12 years, the post of national intelligence chief, making him a feared man.
Analyst Daliborka Uljarevic, director at the Centre for Civic Education, said the choice of Markovic as premier "leaves open the possibility" of Djukanovic returning to power.
Twice before, in 2006 and 2010, he stepped down from the premiership, but on both occasions he stayed party leader and returned to power two years later.
Djukanovic is still head of the DPS and is expected to remain powerful in the country of 620,000 people.
Analysts have suggested his latest withdrawal was a result of pressure from the West over his grip on power -- the DPS has topped all elections in Montenegro since 1991.
Although weakened, it remains largest party in the country and Djukanovic as its leader will be able to "keep a crucial influence on decision making," Uljarevic said.
Could Markovic escape the tutelage of his patron? He could be a less divisive figure among the opposition and appears better placed to rally the support of smaller alliances hostile to Djukanovic.
"He has the authority... and is the best and only choice to ensure control of the situation and party unity," said a DPS party source.
Like Djukanovic, the name of the new prime minister was quoted in a cigarette trafficking inquiry. The case, later dropped, related to a tobacco factory in his northern hometown of Mojkovac.
He described the accusations as "simply nonsense".
"If I had the money I would invest instead in a branch of the economy which is closer to the man I am, who appreciates nature, lakes and rivers," Markovic said.
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