Djukanovic aims for EU with eighth term as Montenegro leader

Veteran ruler accused of presiding over corruption and nepotism in Balkan state

Milo Djukanovic: portrayed himself as only candidate who could ensure Montenegro remained on a pro-western path, with hopes of joining the EU by 2025, and fending off Russian influence. Photograph: Stevo Vasiljevic

Milo Djukanovic: portrayed himself as only candidate who could ensure Montenegro remained on a pro-western path, with hopes of joining the EU by 2025, and fending off Russian influence. Photograph: Stevo Vasiljevic

 

Milo Djukanovic has pledged to guide Montenegro towards European Union membership after a presidential election victory gave him an eighth term in power.

Mr Djukanovic has served as prime minister six times and as president once before, with a few short breaks, while guiding Montenegro through the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and independence from Serbia in 2006.

He put the country on course for its accession to Nato last year, but stepped down as premier after parliamentary elections in October 2016; on election night, the security services claimed to have foiled a Russian-backed plot to kill him and seize power.

With nearly all votes counted from Sunday’s election, Montenegro’s state election authorities said on Monday that Mr Djukanovic had taken 54.04 per cent of ballots, well clear of nearest rival Mladen Bojanic on 33.32 per cent.

“We have fulfilled our promise and we have achieved another valuable victory for the European future of Montenegro,” declared Mr Djukanovic (56), who first took power in 1991.

“I understand this election result as a confirmation of Montenegro’s evolution to achieve European values, European standards and full membership in the European Union,” he added.

The functions of president in 620,000-strong Montenegro are largely ceremonial, but even when he did not hold any official position, Mr Djukanovic was still regarded as the Adriatic nation’s de facto ruler.

Organised crime

As head of state and leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, Mr Djukanovic is poised to continue his long domination of Montenegrin politics, which critics say allows massive corruption, nepotism and organised crime to flourish.

“I am proud of my result,” said Mr Bojanic, who before the vote accused Mr Djukanovic of representing “all that is bad in this society”.

“I will continue the struggle to liberate Montenegro from Djukanovic’s dictatorship,” Mr Bojanic added after accepting defeat.

Mr Bojanic also favours EU accession but was backed by some opposition parties that advocate freezing or scrapping Montenegro’s Nato membership and holding a referendum on the issue. He also wants Montenegro to drop the sanctions on Russia that it imposed in solidarity with the EU.

Mr Djukanovic portrayed himself as the only candidate who could ensure that Montenegro remains on a pro-western path, with hopes of joining the EU by 2025, and fends off Russian efforts to boost its influence in the Balkans.

Russian president Vladimir Putin complained last week that the chilly state of Russia-Montenegro relations “does not correspond to the centuries-old traditions of brotherly friendship and spiritual affinity between our peoples. Russia is in favour of developing links with Montenegro on a mutually beneficial basis.”

Mr Djukanovic acknowledged that ties with Moscow had been affected by years of rising East-West tension, and said “we hope these relations will recover”.