A no-confidence motion has been passed by Montenegro’s parliament, following a rift over a long-disputed deal regulating ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.
The motion, which paves the way for the end of the current government and the beginning of a new round of political upheaval in the Adriatic nation, passed shortly after midnight on Saturday (22:00 GMT on Friday) with 50 votes.
Only one legislator voted against it, while the rest of the 81-seat parliament’s members boycotted the measure.
“We need an election and a stable government,” said parliamentarian Danijel Zivkovic, who filed the motion and triggered the confidence vote.
The motion came just months after a no-confidence vote in February ended the rule of another coalition government.
It was not immediately clear whether the fall of the government would lead to snap parliamentary elections or if the parties would try to form a new governing coalition.
Political tensions have been smouldering in Montenegro for weeks after the government signed a controversial new agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).
The agreement covered a range of issues, including measures to provide a regulatory framework for the hundreds of properties – including churches and monasteries – owned by the SPC.
The country’s prime minister, Dritan Abazovic, hailed the deal, saying the agreement would hopefully smooth over relations between divisive groups within the country, particularly pro-Serbia and pro-Western parties.
Criminal groups sponsoring some political parties were behind the no-confidence motion in order to prevent his government’s anti-corruption campaign, Abazovic said after the vote.
“This country will be ruled either by criminals or by citizens,” he said. “And I’m sorry … that organised crime in Montenegro still uses its tentacles to regulate political relations.”
“I am very proud of everything we have done in 100 days,” Abazovic added. “We will be remembered as the government that lasted the shortest but which made the most difficult decisions.”
Flashpoint religious issues
The SPC is the dominant religious institution in the state, but opponents accuse it of serving neighbouring Serbia’s interests.
The issue is sensitive for many in the Balkan nation of 620,000 people that split from Serbia in 2006. However, a third of the population identify as Serbs and some deny Montenegro should be a separate entity.
President Milo Djukanovic has long been a fierce opponent of the SPC, and has been accused of wanting to nationalise the church’s properties.
For weeks, Djukanovic – who is currently in the opposition – has used the accord as a cudgel to destabilise the government and push for early elections.
Religious issues have been a perennial flashpoint in Montenegro, with past governments toppled over disputes involving the SPC.
The country has long witnessed fights over identity, including last year when protesters calling themselves “Montenegrin patriots” tried to prevent the inauguration of a new SPC leader in Montenegro.
Djukanovic, the architect of independence, has been eager to curb the SPC’s clout in Montenegro and cement a separate national identity, including its own independent Orthodox church.
Political bickering in Montenegro has blocked progress towards integration into the European Union. Montenegro in 2017 defied its former ally Russia to become a member of NATO.