Montenegro votes for new leader with pro-Western veteran tipped to win

Sergio Conner
April 16, 2018

Montenegro's former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic on Sunday claimed victory in the presidential election, according to an NGO monitoring the polls.

The 56-year-old economist led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2016 and into North Atlantic Treaty Organisation last year - now he wants to take the predominantly Orthodox country, a part of which has strong pro-Russia sympathies, into the European Union.

Milo Djukanovic, the presidential candidate of the ruling DPS party (Democratic Party of Socialists), speaks during the meeting with his supporters in the DPS' headquarters in Podgorica, Montenegro, April 15, 2018.

The likely victor is Milo Djukanovic, who has led the government as prime minister six times since 1991 and was president from 1998-2002.

Djukanovic, who has previously served as president and prime minister, faced off several other candidates.

Earlier test polling by CEMI, which is tasked with releasing the first results, gave his main rival, Mladen Bojanic, 34.1 percent.

The vote, the first since Montenegro joined North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in December, was seen as a test for Djukanovic, who favors European integration over closer ties to traditional ally Moscow.

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Djukanovic's party won the last general election in 2016, but he left the office to his deputy Dusko Markovic.

If he wins the presidency, now a ceremonial post held by his ally Filip Vujanovic, it is expected to become the real seat of power in the country of 620,000 people. He hopes next to steer the country into the European Union.

The opposition says Djukanovic has ties to the mafia, an accusation he has denied.

Pro-Russian Marko Milacic, a candidate forecasted to win just three percent of the vote, accuses Djukanovic of being most responsible for the "situation in the country, from bloody streets to the foreign policy and a ruined economy".

But for the 620,000 people in Montenegro, their votes may have been swayed by what work prospects are offered by the candidates rather than ties to the West or Russian Federation.

The issue of organised crime cast a shadow on the campaign, with some 20 people killed by assassination or vehicle bombs over the last two years. The average salary in Montenegro sits at around €500 ($615) and unemployment is more than 20 percent.

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