The presidential candidate of the Party of Democratic Socialists of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, when depositing his vote in Podgorica, on April 15, 2018
The Montenegrins voted on Sunday to elect a new president, in an election in which the pro-Western leader Milo Djukanovic, who led Montenegro for 25 years, is a favorite.
Almost 533,000 voters are called to the polls between 0700 (0500 GMT) and 20.00 (1800 GMT) in 1,214 polling stations in this small Balkan country.
The first results of the elections, followed by almost 2,000 international and local observers, will be announced on Sunday night.
Djukanovic, 56, has been prime minister six times since 1991 and president for one term (1998-2003). According to the polls, he could declare himself victorious this Sunday, without needing to wait for the second round, on April 29.
He led Montenegro to its independence from Serbia in 2006 and its adhesion to NATO, effective since last year, to weigh Russia and a part of the Montenegrins, mostly Slavs and Orthodox. Now it aspires to achieve its entry into the European Union.
– „Reign of an autocrat“ –
If this economist of almost 2 meters of height wins the election, the position of president, until now honorary, will become the true epicenter of power.
The outgoing president, Filip Vujanovic, is an associate of Milo Djukanovic, member of his Party of Democratic Socialists, as well as the current prime minister, Dusko Markovic.
The candidate of the opposition to the Montenegro presidential election Mladen Bojanic speaks to the press in front of a voting center in Podgorica on April 15, 2018
His main adversary is businessman Mladen Bojanic, also 56, who on Sunday, when casting his ballot, called to „put an end to the reign of an autocrat who wants to transform Montenegro into a dictatorship.“
Supported by the main formations of the opposition, Proruss or not, it has about a third of the voting intentions.
The only openly pro-Russian candidate, Marko Milacic, a 32-year-old journalist, would barely achieve 3% of the vote.
– Economic difficulties –
Djukanovic seems to have moderated his hostile speech with the Kremlin and said he is willing to „establish normal relations with Russia, if Russia is also willing to do so.“
The Montenegrin judicial authorities accused the Russian institutions of being behind an attempted coup d’état and even of a murder project of Djukanovic, which they claim was disrupted in October 2016, something that Moscow rejects.
Record of Montenegro
„The opposition proposes to us to be a Russian province“ and defends „a retrograde policy on the multiethnic way of life in Montenegro“, accused Djukanovic, who has the massive support of the Croatian, Albanian and Bosnian minorities, who represent around 15% of the electorate.
For its part, the opposition attacks him because of the weight of organized crime and accuses him of maintaining relations with the underworld.
In a country with more than 20% unemployment, Djukanovic promised to double the average salary in a few years, currently 500 euros ($ 617), but said it would only be possible if Montenegro does not deviate from its path to the EU.
„The economic situation is very bad and without an improvement there will be no progress,“ Lidija Milic, a 51-year-old translator, warned when voting.
At mid-day on Sunday, participation was somewhat less than 30%, similar to that of the legislative of 2016, but much higher than the previous presidential, in 2013 (20%).