PODGORICA: Veteran former communist and now pro-European Union leader Milo Djukanovic won Montenegro's presidential election on Sunday, the state election commission confirmed, extending his almost three-decade-long dominance over the country's politics.
On the basis of 97 percent of votes counted, the commission said Djukanovic won 54.1 percent. Mladen Bojanic, a businessman backed by an alliance of parties, including some wanting closer ties with Russia, garnered 33.2 percent, the commission said. The voters turnout stood at 63.9 percent.
The results were in line with projections from Sunday evening that saw Djukanovic winning 53 per cent of the vote.
The commission said the full official tally would be given in coming days, pending the end of a complaints procedure.
Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led Montenegro into NATO last year and have pledged to complete talks for EU membership for the tiny Balkan republic.
But on Thursday, Djukanovic told Reuters he would welcome an improvement of relations with Russia that soured when Montenegro introduced sanctions against Moscow in 2014 over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
Although the presidential role is largely ceremonial, Djukanovic is expected to wield real power and influence policy through the ranks of the DPS.
"We can now continue to what the people want - a better life," said Kadrija Demirovic, 45, a forester and Djukanovic supporter from the northern Montenegrin town of Kolasin.
Djukanovic has been atop Montenegrin politics as either prime minister or president of the Adriatic coastal country of about 620,000 people since 1991. He stepped down as prime minister in 2016 but announced his comeback last month citing "responsibility for Montenegro's future".
During the campaign, opposition leaders accused Djukanovic and the DPS of fostering corruption, nepotism, cronyism and ties with organised crime, accusations they denied.
"This evil man and his evil clique will continue to ravage the country," Milanko, 23, a waiter, said as he unloaded a crate of oranges in a Podgorica cafe.
Election observers reported irregularities on election day, but not on a level that could influence overall result.
Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) democracy and human rights watchdog were due to give their assessment of the electoral process later on Monday.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich)