Djukanovic vows EU path af­ter sweep­ing Montenegro vote

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Regional -

MONTENEGRO’S rul­ing party leader Milo Djukanovic swept a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Sun­day, pre­lim­i­nary re­sults showed, and he pledged to keep the small Balkan coun­try firmly on a Euro­pean path af­ter it joined NATO last year in de­fi­ance of Rus­sia.

Djukanovic won 54 per­cent of the bal­lots, se­cur­ing a vic­tory in the first round and avoid­ing a runoff, ac­cord­ing to re­sults re­leased by the in­de­pen­dent Cen­ter for Mon­i­tor­ing and Re­search. His main op­po­nent, Mladen Bo­janic, won 33 per­cent.

Sun­day’s vote, the first since Montenegro joined the West­ern mil­i­tary alliance in De­cem­ber, was seen as a test for Djukanovic, who fa­vors Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion over closer ties to tra­di­tional ally Moscow.

“We have ac­com­plished an im­por­tant vic­tory for [Montenegro’s] Euro­pean fu­ture,” Djukanovic told cheer­ing sup­port­ers, adding he saw the tri­umph “as the con­fir­ma­tion of Montenegro’s strong de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue on the Euro­pean road.”

Djukanovic’s party ear­lier de­clared him the win­ner as sup­port­ers took to the streets to cel­e­brate. Crowds drove in cars around the cap­i­tal, Podgorica, honk­ing horns and wav­ing flags as fire­works lit the sky.

“Milo Djukanovic is the new pres­i­dent of Montenegro,” said Mi­los Nikolic, of the DPS. “This is a great vic­tory, a his­toric vic­tory.”

Chal­lenger Bo­janic, who was backed by sev­eral op­po­si­tion groups, in­clud­ing pro-Rus­sian ones, vowed to con­tinue his strug­gle against Djukanovic, de­scrib­ing him as “the man hold­ing Montenegro and its in­sti­tu­tions hostage.”

“I will con­tinue to fight to free Montenegro of Djukanovic and his dic­ta­tor­ship,” Bo­janic said. “I am ap­peal­ing to op­po­si­tion vot­ers not to view this as a de­feat but as a ba­sis for fur­ther strug­gle.”

Djukanovic, the coun­try’s dom­i­nant politi­cian, and his party have ruled Montenegro for nearly 30 years. Pres­i­dent Filip Vu­janovic, also of the rul­ing party, was not run­ning due to term lim­its.

About 530,000 vot­ers were choos­ing among sev­eral can­di­dates in the Adri­atic Sea na­tion that used to be part of Yu­goslavia. For the first time in the staunchly con­ser­va­tive na­tion, a fe­male can­di­date also ran for the pres­i­dency, win­ning 8 per­cent of the vote.

Djukanovic has served both as prime min­is­ter and pres­i­dent in sev­eral man­dates since be­com­ing the youngest head of gov­ern­ment in Europe at the age of 29 in 1991. He was prime min­is­ter dur­ing a tense Oc­to­ber 2016 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion when au­thor­i­ties said they thwarted a pro-Rus­sian coup at­tempt de­signed to pre­vent the coun­try from join­ing NATO. Djukanovic led Montenegro to in­de­pen­dence from much­larger Ser­bia in 2006 and was be­hind the NATO bid, which Moscow strongly op­posed. He promised Sun­day to work to over­come di­vi­sions within Montenegro, a pre­dom­i­nantly Ortho­dox Chris­tian Slavic na­tion where many still cher­ish his­toric links to Rus­sia.

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