Pro-Western Leader Wins Race for Presidency in Montenegro

(Bloomberg) -- Milo Djukanovic, who defied Russia to take his Balkan state into NATO, won Sunday’s presidential election on a pledge to stay on course for European Union membership.

Djukanovic, who had almost continuously served as premier or president in the country of 620,000 people for more than a quarter of a century, won 54 percent, eliminating the need for a runoff. His main challenger, Milan Bojanic, got 33 percent, according to results from the state election commission, based on 99 percent of votes counted on Monday. Bojanic conceded defeat, state broadcaster RTCG reported.

Pro-Western Leader Wins Race for Presidency in Montenegro

The outcome is “a confirmation of Montenegro’s resolve to stick to the European quality of life and membership in the EU,” Djukanovic told supporters at his Democratic Party of Socialists, which has been in power for decades. He will replace his ally, Filip Vujanovic, who used up the legal limit of two consecutive five-year terms.

Djukanovic, 56, rose through the ranks of Yugoslavia’s single-party Communist system to become Montenegro’s prime minister first in 1991. Once an ally of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he has pivoted to portray himself as a staunchly pro-Western figure in the Balkans, where Russia, the U.S., the EU and Turkey are in a struggle for influence.

He oversaw a 2006 split from Serbia but stepped down as premier in 2016 after accusing Russia of trying to assassinate him during a coup attempt in the runup to Montenegro’s 2017 entry into NATO. With his comeback victory, he defeated Bojanic, who was nominated by opposition parties that include pro-Russian, anti-NATO groups.

The EU Commission wants Montenegro to improve its legal system, particularly the judiciary, German newspaper Welt reported citing an EU report on the country’s readiness for membership. The country must also strengthen the freedom of expression and the media, accelerate the fight against corruption, organized crime and money laundering, and reform its electoral law, according to the report.

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