- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) - Lawmakers from three political parties in Montenegro asserted their new combined power as a majority in parliament Wednesday to oust the party that has governed the Balkan country for some 30 years.

The pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists won the most votes in the country’s Aug. 30 parliamentary election, but a coalition of three other parties formerly in opposition together garnered 41 of the 81 seats.

As parliament convened for the first time since the election, the new coalition voted a speaker into office and said they had agreed on who will become Montenegro’s next prime minister.

There have been fears that the new government could push Montenegro off its pro-Western course because it includes parties advocating closer ties with traditional allies Serbia and Russia. But leaders have pledged to strengthen ties with NATO and speed up the reforms needed to join the European Union.

Montenegro, a small Adriatic Sea nation of 620,000 people, has been a key Western ally in the Balkans under the Democratic Party of Socialists’ leadership. However, the party has faced allegations of rampant corruption and links to organized crime.

The leaders of the three-party coalition have also pledged to change a disputed law on religious freedoms that sparked months of protests led by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro and gave the opposition a boost ahead of the election.

If confirmed by lawmakers, the new coalition government will take power as coronavirus cases surge in Montenegro after a failed tourism season which is expected to seriously hit the country’s already weak economy.

The DPS party led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and into NATO in 2017, defying strong opposition from Russia.

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