PODGORICA Montenegro's president called a parliamentary election on Tuesday for October 14, some six months ahead of schedule, as the ruling coalition seeks a fresh mandate for talks on joining the European Union.
The announcement by President Filip Vujanovic followed a vote by lawmakers last week to dissolve parliament and head to early polls after the EU opened accession talks late last month with the Adriatic ex-Yugoslav republic of 680,000 people.
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), the main party in the ruling coalition and the dominant force in Montenegro for more than two decades, says the government should have a clean slate for the talks.
The party is favourite to win again.
The opposition, however, says the DPS is rushing to elections for fear of what lies in store for the struggling economy next year.
Shackled with the debts of loss-making industries and suffering like its neighbours from the crisis in the euro zone, Montenegrin gross domestic product (GDP) is forecast to grow a meagre 0.5 percent this year.
Among the countries carved from old federal Yugoslavia, Montenegro is next in the queue for EU membership behind Croatia, which joins the 27-member bloc in July next year. Slovenia joined in 2004.
But Montenegro's ruling elite has been dogged for years by allegations of cronyism and corruption and will face intense scrutiny from the EU. It could be years before the country, which became independent in 2006 when it split from a state union with Serbia, actually joins.
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 talks can start.
(Writing by Matt Robinson, editing by Diana Abdallah)