PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Preliminary projections by independent monitors in Montenegro’s presidential election Sunday showed ruling-party leader Milo Djukanovic sweeping the vote, avoiding a runoff.
The Center for Monitoring and Research said after counting more than 80 percent of the votes that Djukanovic won about 53 percent while his main opponent, Mladen Bojanic, won 34 percent.
If confirmed, the result will present a major boost for Djukanovic, who defied Russia to take his country into NATO last year.
The vote, the first since Montenegro joined the Western military alliance in December, was seen as a test for Djukanovic, who favors European integration over closer ties to traditional ally Moscow.
Djukanovic, the country’s dominant politician, and his Democratic Party of Socialists have ruled Montenegro for nearly 30 years. President Filip Vujanovic of that party was not running due to term limits.
About 530,000 voters were choosing among several candidates in the Adriatic Sea nation that used to be part of Yugoslavia.
Djukanovic was prime minister during a tense October 2016 parliamentary election when authorities said they thwarted a pro-Russian coup attempt designed to prevent the country from joining NATO.
He led Montenegro to independence from much-larger Serbia in 2006 and was behind the NATO bid. He hopes next to steer the country into the European Union.
Bojanic, an economic expert and former lawmaker, has accused the ruling party of corruption and links to organized crime following a spike in crime-related violence.