PODGORICA -- Voters went to the polls on April 7 in a presidential election in the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, where incumbent Filip Vujanovic is widely expected to defeat former Foreign Minister Miodrag Lekic.
Vujanovic is running for a third five-year term after the country’s constitutional court ruled the move would not violate the two-term limit because his first victory came before Montenegro split from Serbia and became an independent state.
The 58-year-old Vujanovic, a close ally of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, has promised to improve democracy and EU and NATO integration if elected.
Speaking in the capital, Podgorica, after casting his vote, Vujanovic said European and Euro-Atlantic integration are a “necessity” for Montenegro.
"I am convinced that this victory will be bigger than the last one, that support will be stronger, and we will continue, above all, what our citizens expect: powerful economic development, new investments, new jobs, bigger salaries and pensions, for the better quality of life," he said. "Also, we will intensify the integration process that is needed and conditions for a better life in Montenegro, and my mandate will be devoted to these goals."
After Croatia, Montenegro is the next ex-Yugoslav country in line for EU succession.
A Vujanovic win would cement the standing of the ruling coalition that, under Djukanovic, has led Montenegro since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Lekic, who has managed to secure the united backing of Montenegro’s usually fractured opposition, has campaigned on an anticorruption platform.
He vowed after casting his vote that he would continue to work for the good of Montenegro, regardless of the election result.
"If I become president of Montenegro, or if a stay an ordinary citizen, I will for sure continue working on the promotion of Montenegro," he said. "I believe that citizens hope for change, so I expect that the majority of them will vote for me."
Djukanovic, who helped orchestrate Montenegro’s 2006 break from Serbia, has been a target of frequent corruption claims.
In 2006, he was named as a suspect in an Italian probe into cigarette smuggling and people trafficking that took place during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The charges were dropped in 2009. Djukanovic has always rejected the claims as lies.
Neither Djukanovic nor Lekic has offered a concrete plan for addressing Montenegro’s struggling economy.
Unemployment in the country currently stands at 20 percent, and the average monthly salary is about $615 dollars.
With reporting by AFP and dpa
PHOTO GALLERY: Montenegrins Go To The Polls