Lawmakers vote 50-1 to oust PM Dritan Abazovic's government, just weeks after he signed a deal regulating position of Serbian Orthodox Church in the Adriatic nation.

Religious issues have been a perennial flashpoint in Montenegro, with past governments toppled over disputes involving the SPC.
Religious issues have been a perennial flashpoint in Montenegro, with past governments toppled over disputes involving the SPC. (Reuters)

A no-confidence motion has been passed by Montenegro's parliament, paving the way for the end of the current ruling government and the beginning of a fresh round of political upheaval in the Adriatic nation.

The motion passed shortly after Friday midnight with 50 votes, with only one MP voting 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.

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.

Montenegro's perennial flashpoint

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 ruling 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 tiny Adriatic country has long been plagued by fights over identity, including last year when protesters calling themselves "Montenegrin patriots" tried to prevent the inauguration of a new SPC leader in Montenegro.

The nation broke away from Serbia in 2006, but a third of its 620,000 inhabitants identify as Serbs and some deny Montenegro should be a separate entity.

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.

The SPC is the dominant religion in the small state, but opponents accuse it of serving neighbouring Serbia's interests.

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 bickering in Montenegro has blocked progress toward integration into the European Union. Montenegro in 2017 defied its former ally Russia to become a member of NATO.

Source: AFP