The historic leader of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic looks set to win the presidential election in Montenegro in the first round, according to the first results published on Sunday evening.
According to the independent NGO Center for Monitoring (CEMI), after counting the ballots in more than half of the polling stations, Milo Djukanovic garnered 53.5 percent of the vote, putting him way ahead ahead of his main rival, Mladen Bojanic on 34.1 percent.
Djukanovic led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006 and NATO membership last year, much to the annoyance of Moscow which has had close historic relations with the mostly Slavic and Orthodox Christian country.
Djukanovic now intends to bring the tiny Adriatic nation of some 620,000 people into the European Union.
If, as expected, the 56-year-old former economist wins the election, the now honorary position of president, will become the real seat of power.
Current incumbent Filip Vujanovic is a close associate of Milo Djukanovic, a member of his Socialist Democrats Party (DPS), as is Prime Minister Dusko Markovic.
The election comes at a crucial time for EU-Russian relations, with Balkan countries like Montenegro being seen as a figurative battleground for influence in what is being described as a new Cold War.
The Montenegrin judicial authorities have accused Russian institutions of being behind an attempted coup and even plans to assassinate Milo Djukanovic, whom they claim to have foiled in October 2016. Moscow vehemently denies the accusation.
Djukanovic has since moderated his hostile rhetoric towards the Kremlin, saying he is ready to “establish normal relations with Russia, if it is also ready to do so”.
For its part, the opposition has attacked the influence of organized crime in Montenegrin society, where deadly shootouts and bombings have become a regular occurrence among drug trafficking gangs. Djukanovic himself has long been accused of turning Montenegro into a safe haven for criminals, an accusation that he denies.
In a country where unemployment exceeds 20%, Milo Djukanovic is committed to doubling the average salary, currently 500 euros, in a few years. A commitment, he pleaded, that can only be held if Montenegro does not deviate from its path to the EU.