Montenegro's ruling party seeks new mandate for EU talks
PODGORICA (Reuters) - Lawmakers in the Adriatic state of Montenegro dissolved parliament on Thursday as the ruling coalition pushed for an early election and a fresh mandate for talks on joining the European Union.
The vote, which passed 47-27 in the 81-seat parliament, frees President Filip Vujanovic to call a parliamentary election likely for October, some six months ahead of schedule.
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the main party in the ruling coalition and the dominant force in Montenegro for more than two decades, is favourite to win again.
DPS-led governments steered the former Yugoslav republic of 680,000 people to independence in 2006 and clinched the start of EU accession talks last month.
But the party has been dogged for years by allegations of cronyism and corruption and faces a tough time proving to the 27-member EU that it has cleaned up its act. It could be years before Montenegro actually joins.
"We believe that a parliament and government of Montenegro with a full four-year mandate will best answer the challenges of this demanding phase of integration," DPS lawmaker Milutin Simovic told parliament.
The opposition said the government was rushing to elections for fear of what lies in store for the struggling economy next year. "Hard times are coming, and the people from the governing coalition are well aware of this," said Andrija Mandic, leader of the opposition New Serb Democracy party.
Montenegro's economy boomed on the back of tourism and investment after it split from a state union with Serbia in 2006. But, shackled with the debts of loss-making industries and suffering like its neighbours from the crisis in the euro zone, the economy is forecast to grow a meagre 0.5 percent this year.
Public debt is on track to hit 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 28 percent in 2007.
Neighbouring Croatia will become the second ex-Yugoslav republic to join the EU in July next year, after Slovenia in 2004 - a process the bloc hopes will permanently stabilise a Balkan region still coming to terms with the violent break-up of old federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Serbia became a candidate for EU membership in March, but Brussels says it must do more in normalising ties with its former Kosovo province before accession talks can start.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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