Montenegro's MPs approve PM-designate in disputed vote

FILE PHOTO: Protestors confront with police in Podgorica

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro's parliament on Thursday declared veteran politician Miodrag Lekic as Prime Minister-designate in a vote disputed by the president and under a procedure described by European Union officials as contravening the country's constitution.

Lekic, 75, a career diplomat from the time of the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, said he hoped to form a government by Jan. 20. Parliament speaker Danijela Djurović said Lekić won the support of 41 lawmakers in the 81-seat parliament.

Montenegro has been in political deadlock for months after President Milo Djukanovic had rejected Lekic as a candidate for the job of premier, citing procedural errors. According to the constitution, the president nominates the prime minister-designate agreed by a parliamentary majority.

In August, the parliament passed a no-confidence motion on the Cabinet of Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic over signing a long-disputed deal regulating ties with the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church, the second no-confidence vote in government this year.

The parliament's majority made up of a heterogeneous coalition of pro-European and pro-Serb parties had proposed Lekic as a PM candidate to Djukanovic but without signatures of deputies so he rejected it.

Then the MPs passed a law allowing the parliament to nominate the PM-designate in case the president fails to do so, which requires changes to the constitution.

However, the constitutional court has not been functional since September because the parliament could not agree on the appointment of a new judge after one of them retired.

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body in the field of constitutional law, has said the law curbing the presidential powers contravened the constitution and had to be amended.

Djukanovic, Montenegro's long-time president, said that Lekic's nomination was anti-constitutional but that he was open to a political dialogue with the parliamentary majority.

Politics in Montenegro, a NATO member and a candidate to join the European Union, has long been marked by a rift between those who identify as Montenegrins and those who see themselves as Serbs and oppose Montenegro's independence from a former state union with neighbouring and much larger Serbia.

(Reporting by Stevo Vasiljevic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Grant McCool)