Montenegro Votes For New Leader


PODGORICA (Dis­patches) - The peo­ple of Montenegro be­gan vot­ing Sun­day in polls ex­pected to see pro-West­ern for­mer prime min­is­ter Milo Djukanovic elected as pres­i­dent of the tiny Balkan na­tion that is as­pir­ing to join the EU.

Hav­ing dom­i­nated pol­i­tics in the for­mer Yu­goslav repub­lic for nearly 25 years, Djukanovic stepped down as prime min­is­ter in Oc­to­ber 2016. He an­nounced his come­back bid last month.

The 56-year-old econ­o­mist wants to take the pre­dom­i­nantly Ortho­dox coun­try, a part of which has strong pro-Rus­sia sym­pa­thies, into the Euro­pean Union fol­low­ing its ad­mis­sion to NATO in 2017.

If he wins the pres­i­dency, cur­rently a cer­e­mo­nial post, it is ex­pected to be­come the real seat of power in the coun­try of 620,000 peo­ple.

The is­sue of or­ga­nized crime has cast a shadow on the cam­paign, with some 20 peo­ple killed by as­sas­si­na­tions in the street or car bombs over the last two years.

Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and was to close at 8pm, with first re­sults shortly af­ter­wards.

Djukanovic is the most high-pro­file of all the seven can­di­dates with posters plas­tered all over the cap­i­tal Podgorica -- where a third of Montenegro’s pop­u­la­tion lives -- pro­claim­ing him as “leader, states­man and pres­i­dent of all cit­i­zens”. Opin­ion polls pre­dict a first-round vic­tory. But if the veteran leader is forced into a run-off, it will be held on April 29.

The op­po­si­tion ac­cuses Djukanovic of be­ing linked to the mafia, which he de­nies. “As pres­i­dent, I will do ev­ery­thing in my power... to give the po­lice the au­thor­ity that would al­low them to pro­tect cit­i­zens from those who put their lives in dan­ger,” Djukanovic said dur­ing the cam­paign.

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