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.