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 US, the EU and Turkey are in a struggle for influence.
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 opened at 7 am and were expected to close at 8 pm on Sunday.
“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.