Montenegro votes in presidential election, EU ties

Montenegro votes in presidential election, EU ties

Pedestrians walk in front of a pre-election billboard with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, reading European statesman, our President Milo. PHOTO AFP PODGORICA Montenegrins began voting on Sunday in a presidential election that will determine the outcome of a parliamentary vote in June, as well as the small Adriatic country's stance toward the West and its ties with neighboring Serbia.

Polling stations in Montenegro, which is a NATO member and candidate to join the European Union, will close at 7 am 0600 GMT and close at 8 pm 1900 GMT First unofficial results are expected to be released about two hours later by pollsters.

Milo Djukanovic, the incumbent pro-Western president, has held top political positions in the country for 33 years and is seeking another five-year term.

His main opponents include Andrija Mandic, head of the Democratic Front, which favors closer ties with Serbia and Russia, and Jakov Milatovic, a pro-Western economist and deputy head of the Europe Now movement.

If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round of voting between the top two is scheduled for April 2.

Opponents accuse Djukanovic and his left-centrist Democratic Party of Socialists DPS of corruption, links to organized crime and running the country of some 620,000 people as their own fiefdom - charges Djukanovic and his party deny.

ALSO READ: Montenegro opposition declares a victory in East-West tug of war.

Sunday's vote came amid a year-long political crisis that has resulted in no-confidence votes in two separate governments and a row between lawmakers and Djukanovic over the president's refusal to name a new prime minister.

On Thursday Djukanovic dissolved the parliament and scheduled a snap election for June 11. A victory in the presidential election would boost the chances that the winner's party will win the parliamentary election.

Mirjana Aleksic, 53, of Podgorica, said she was expecting people to open their eyes and that we will start to go forward for a better life.

READ MORE: 2 Russian spies were sentenced in Montenegro in a coup attempt.

Montenegro, which relies heavily on revenues from its Adriatic tourism, joined NATO in 2017 after a botched coup attempt a year earlier in the year, after the government blamed Russian agents and Serbian nationalists. Moscow dismissed such claims as absurd.