Home / World News / Anti-Russian Milo Djukanovic favourite to win Montenegro election

Anti-Russian Milo Djukanovic favourite to win Montenegro election

Voting has begun in Montenegro with pro-western former prime minister Milo Djukanovic expected to be elected president of the small Balkan country.

Mr Djukanovic has dominated politics in the former Yugoslav republic for almost 25 years and stepped down as prime minister in 2016.

In March he announced his bid to return to frontline politics and the 56-year-old economist wants to take the predominantly Orthodox country – which has pro-Russia sympathies – into the European Union following its admission to NATO in 2017.

Last year Sky News revealed evidence that allegedly linked Russia to an attempted coup in Montenegro.

Passport images belonging to one of the two main suspects linked him to the Russia military and suggested he used an alias to plot the coup.

An old passport was issued in the name of Eduard Shishmakov that described him as the assistant military attache at the Russian Embassy in Poland.

A more recent passport issued in August 2016, just two months before the attempted coup, had a photo of the same man, with the same birth date, but a different surname – Shirokov.

Western intelligence said it was proof Shirokov was a GRU officer and was connected to Moscow. They described the coup attempt as “further evidence of aggressive Russian involvement in the heart of Europe”.

Mr Djukanovic has been accused of being linked to the mafia
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Milo Djukanovic has been accused of being linked to the mafia

Theresa May has on several occasions cited Montenegro as an example of where Russia has repeatedly meddled in a country’s politics.

If Mr Djukanovic wins the presidency – currently a ceremonial post – it is expected to become the real seat of power in the country of 620,000 people.

Organised crime has cast a shadow over the campaign after 20 people were killed by assassinations in the street or car bombs over the last two years.

Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and will close at 8pm, with the first results expected shortly afterwards.

Mr Djukanovic is the most high-profile of the seven candidates, with posters plastered all over the capital Podgorica billing him as “leader, statesman and president of all citizens”.

Opinion polls predict a first-round victory but if the veteran politician is forced into a run-off he will have to face voters again on 29 April.

Supporters Djukanovic at a rally in Podgorica
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Supporters of Mr Djukanovic at a rally in Podgorica

Mr Djukanovic has been accused by the opposition of being linked to the mafia, which he denies.

During the campaign he said: “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.”

Mr Djukanovic’s strongest rival is Mladen Bojanic, who has the support of most opposition parties, including pro-Russian factions.

Mr Bojanic said Mr Djukanovic “cannot be the solution because he is the creator of the instability and chaos that we witness in the streets of Montenegro”.

Another candidate, pro-Russian Marko Milacic, has accused Mr Djukanovic of being responsible for the “situation in the country, from bloody streets to the foreign policy and a ruined economy”.

Low salaries and unemployment at above 20% means the debate over the West versus Russia is not the main concern of many Montenegrins.

Montenegro, along with Serbia, is the favourite to join the EU next, possibly as early as 2025.

The EU in its 2016 progress report told the country it should continue its efforts to reduce organised crime, especially human trafficking and money laundering.

The report also noted the problem of international cigarette smuggling through the port of Bar.

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