Djukanovic claims to have won presidential election in Montenegro

Montenegro to elect new president on Sunday

Montenegro elections likely to mark closer relations with both Russia and the West

Voters in Montenegro were casting ballots yesterday in a presidential election, with former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic expected to win after his party defied Russian Federation and took the small Balkan nation into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization a year ago.

The vote Sunday may be the first due to the fact the Western military alliance was combined by Montenegro in December.

Some 530,000 voters will choose among several candidates.

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Dominant in Montenegrin politics for the past 30 years, the 56-year-old Djukanovic has served both as president and prime minister. But if the veteran leader is forced into a run-off, it will be held on April 29.The opposition accuses Djukanovic of being linked to the mafia, which he denies."As president, I will do everything in my power.to give the police the authority that would allow them to protect citizens from those who put their lives in danger", Djukanovic said during the campaign.Djukanovic's strongest rival is Mladen Bojanic, who has the support of most opposition parties, including pro-Russian factions. He led Montenegro to independence from much larger Serbia in 2006 and later into North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Additionally, sceptics of Djukanovic resent him for prioritising pro-Western strategies, such as setting sights on joining the European Union, over social programme development that has left the country with a 20% unemployment rate and rising rates of organised crime. "The time has come for us to complete the job we started 20 years ago".

Mladen Bojanic was Djukanovic's main rival, having been put forward by the leading opposition party, the Democratic Front, which prefers closer ties to Russian Federation and accuses Djukanovic of both nepotism and corruption. Bojanic said Djukanovic "cannot be the solution because he is the creator of the instability and chaos that we witness in the streets of Montenegro".

The fractured opposition parties supporting Bojanic include the pro-Russian Democratic Front, whose two main leaders are on trial for taking part in the alleged 2016 coup attempt.

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Bojanic, an economic expert and former lawmaker, has accused the ruling party of corruption and links to organized crime following a spike in crime-related violence.

Analyst Sergej Sekulovic believes Djukanovic needs a triumph in the first round, and even a runoff vote would signal a possible shift in public opinion. Vuksanovic is trailing third in the polls with around 8 percent support.

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