The Western Balkan nation Montenegro will avoid having to go to a second round for its presidential election after the country’s 56-year-old former head of state, Milo Djukanovic, secured a large enough percentage of the electorate to avoid a runoff.
A six-time former prime minister who also served as president from 1998-2002, Djukanovic said his victory in the April 15 vote “confirmed Montenegro’s strong determination to continue on its European path.”
Djukanovic won the election having captured 53.9% of the vote; far ahead of his main rival, Mladen Bojanic, a businessman who received 33% of the votes cast on Sunday and who was backed by an alliance of parties that included a contingent intent on scrapping Montenegro’s drive towards full EU and NATO membership in favour of closer ties with Russia.
In his concession speech, Bojanic said, “Montenegro’s voters had made their choice.” He went on to slam Djukanovic’s victory as farce, saying it was the result of “blackmail and pressure” and vowed continue to “to free Montenegro of Djukanovic and his dictatorship”.
Nongovernmental election monitors reported a number of violations regarding the voting procedures, but the election authorities said no major irregularities had been recorded by the international observers.
The ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists led Montenegro into NATO in 2017 and have pledged to complete talks for full EU membership as quickly as possible. With its accession to NATO, Podgorica became the third former Yugoslav republic – along with Croatia and Slovenia – to join the Trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Montenegro’s decision to integrate with the West has deeply angered Russia, which considers the Slavic, Eastern Orthodox nations of the Balkans to be part of the Kremlin’s historic sphere of influence. In October 2016, Podgorica’s intelligence services foiled a plot by Moscow to orchestrate a coup as a last-ditch attempt to prevent Montenegro′s accession to NATO.
Djukanovic is a veteran of Montenegrin politics having served as either prime minister or president on several occasions since the tiny country of 640,000 people dissolved its union with nearby Serbia in the post-Communist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia more than a decade ago.
The presidential role is largely ceremonial, but Djukanovic – a former Yugoslav Communist Party official who rose as part of a group of young politicians to prominence in the late 1980s and who became Europe’s youngest prime minister in 1991 at the age of 29 – is expected to wield considerable power and influence after a two-year absence from office, a rare gap in his almost three decades of involvement in politics.
He has been dogged by opposition accusations that he fosters cronyism and corruption and was under investigation by prosecutors in the southern Italian city of Bari in 2008 for alleged tobacco smuggling. The probe was later dropped given Djukanovic’s diplomatic immunity.