Montenegro's Djukanovic Poised for Return in Presidential Ballot

(Bloomberg) -- Montenegrins are voting in an election that looks set to return Milo Djukanovic to the presidency, giving the veteran leader a chance to fulfill his pledge to lead the country into the European Union after parting ways with Russia by joining NATO last year.

Djukanovic, the dominant leader in the country of 620,000 since he became prime minister in 1991 at the age of 29, resigned as prime minister in 2016 after accusing Russia of trying to assassinate him in an alleged coup attempt. Once an ally of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he has pivoted to portray himself as a staunchly pro-Western figure in the ex-communist Balkans, where Russia, the U.S., the EU and Turkey are in a struggle for influence.

Montenegro's Djukanovic Poised for Return in Presidential Ballot

The 56-year-old former president and prime minister tops opinion polls and may win 51 percent of votes, according to a March survey by the Podgorica-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights. His main challenger, Mladen Bojanic, is seen winning 36 percent. Ballot stations open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Sunday. Preliminary results are expected later in the evening, and if no candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers will progress to an April 29 runoff.

“There has been some concern in the West regarding Dukanovic’s return to the political stage following his retirement in 2016, given his dominating presence in Montenegro’s politics over the past three decades,” said Thomas Lake, a senior political risk analyst at BMI Research. “However, given his prominent role in the country’s road to independence, it was always likely that he would return to the political scene.”

Djukanovic has called his opponents “traitors against the national interest” who would abandon the path to the EU and opt out of sanctions against Russia that Montenegro has joined.

On the other hand, his rivals have accused his ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of rampant corruption, abuse of power, and betraying former Yugoslav partner Serbia, from which Montenegro split in 2006.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.