Djukanovic sweeps Montenegro presidential vote

Djukanovic sweeps Montenegro presidential vote

Voting has begun in Montenegro with pro-western former prime minister Milo Djukanovic expected to be elected president of the small Balkan country.

With 95 per cent of the ballots counted, exit polls suggest Djukanovic won 53.9 per cent of the votes, securing victory in the first round.

According to Montenegro's CEMI election monitor, Mladen Bojanic, an independent candidate supported by the majority of the opposition parties, came second with 33.4 per cent of the votes.

Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) declared him the victor on Sunday evening.

Sunday's vote was seen as test for the long-time leader Djukanovic, who favors European integration over closer ties to Montenegro's traditional ally, Moscow.

"This is confirmation of Montenegro's decision to continue on its European path that will lead us to full EU membership", Djukanovic told his supporters.

Djukanovic thanked his coalition partners, noting that he expected a similar victory in the upcoming parliamentary election. Crowds drove in cars around the capital, Podgorica, honking horns and waving flags as fireworks lit the sky. His party officials announced late on Sunday that Djukanovic, who has dominated politics in Montenegro for almost 25 years, had secured victory. "This is a great victory, a historic victory". "I am appealing to opposition voters not to view this as a defeat but as a basis for further struggle".

Having dominated politics as either prime minister or president of the former Yugoslav republic of about 620,000 people, Djukanovic stepped down as prime minister in 2016.

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Djukanovic is set to replace incumbent President Filip Vujanovic, whose mandate expires in May.

About 530,000 voters were eligible to vote in the election.

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

He was prime minister during a tense October 2016 parliamentary election when authorities said they thwarted a pro-Russian coup attempt created to prevent the country from joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

This was the seventh election since the fall of Communism, and the third since Montenegro regained its independence in 2006.

He promised Sunday to work to overcome divisions within Montenegro, a predominantly Orthodox Christian Slavic nation where many still cherish historic links to Russian Federation.

Prosecutors have charged 14 people, including two opposition leaders and two Russian intelligence officers, in connection with the alleged conspiracy.

Another candidate, pro-Russian Marko Milacic, has accused Mr Djukanovic of being responsible for the "situation in the country, from bloody streets to the foreign policy and a ruined economy".

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