Lawmakers vote 50-1 against Prime Minister Abazovic’s government weeks after he signed a pact regulating the position of the Serbian Church.
Montenegro’s parliament has passed a no-confidence motion, following a rift over a long-disputed agreement governing ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.
The motion, which paves the way for the end of the current government and the start of a new round of political upheaval in the Adriatic nation, was passed shortly after midnight on Saturday (22:00 GMT Friday) with 50 votes.
Only one lawmaker voted against it, while the rest of the 81-seat parliament boycotted the measure.
“We need elections and a stable government,” said MP Danijel Zivkovic, who introduced the motion and triggered the vote of confidence.
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 early parliamentary elections or whether the parties would try to form a new governing coalition.
Political tensions have been simmering in Montenegro for weeks after the government signed a controversial new deal 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, has welcomed the agreement, saying the deal is expected to ease relations between the country’s divisive groups, particularly pro-Serbia and pro-Western parties.
Criminal groups sponsoring some political parties were behind the no-confidence motion to prevent his government’s anti-corruption campaign, Abazovic said after the vote.
“This country will be ruled by criminals or by citizens,” he said. “And I’m sorry … that organized crime in Montenegro still uses its tentacles to regulate political relations.”
“I am very proud of everything we have done in 100 days,” added Abazovic. “We will be remembered as the government that lasted the shortest but made the hardest decisions.”
Hot spot religious issues
The SPC is the dominant religious institution in the state, but opponents accuse it of serving the interests of neighboring Serbia.
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 that 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 nationalize the church’s properties.
For weeks, Djukanovic, who is currently in the opposition, has used the deal as a club to destabilize the government and push for early elections.
Religious issues have been a perennial focus in Montenegro, with past governments toppled over SPC-related disputes.
The country has long seen identity clashes, including last year when protesters calling themselves “Montenegrin patriots” tried to block the inauguration of a new SPC leader in Montenegro.
Djukanovic, the architect of independence, has been eager to curb the power of the SPC in Montenegro and consolidate a separate national identity, including its own independent Orthodox church.
Political infighting in Montenegro has blocked progress towards integration into the European Union. In 2017, Montenegro challenged its former ally Russia to become a member of NATO.