PODGORICA -- Montenegro's ruling party leader Milo Djukanovic has won an outright victory in the country's presidential vote and avoided a runoff, nearly complete official results confirm.
Election authorities said on April 16 that with 97 percent of votes counted, Djukanovic won 54.1 percent, extending his almost three-decade-long dominance over Montenegro's politics.
His main challenger, Mladen Bojanic, garnered 33.2 percent of the vote, they said.
None of the other five candidates, including lawmaker Draginja Vuksanovic, the first woman to run for Montenegro's presidency, reached double digits in the April 15 election.
Turnout stood at 63.9 percent.
In its preliminary report, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe’s (OSCE) election observation mission said that “fundamental freedoms were respected” in the polls, although Djukanovic “held an institutional advantage.”
“The lack of analytical reporting and the absence of the front-runner in the televised debates reduced voters’ opportunity to make an informed choice,” the report said.
Election day proceeded “in an orderly manner,” the observers also said, despite “a few procedural irregularities observed.”
Earlier, Djukanovic said his victory was "confirmation of Montenegro's strong determination to continue on the European road."
Speaking to cheering supporters after preliminary projections showed he won the vote outright, he called it "another important victory for [Montenegro's] European future."
Bojanic conceded defeat but said Djukanovic's victory was the result of "blackmail and pressure."
He also said that he would continue to "fight to free Montenegro of Djukanovic and his dictatorship."
The vote was seen to be key in determining whether Montenegro remains on a Western course headed toward European Union membership or drifts back into Russia's orbit, even though relations have soured recently.
Bojanic was supported by most of the country's opposition parties, including pro-Russian groups who want to freeze Montenegro's NATO membership and organize a referendum on the issue if they took power.
Djukanovic’s victory will end his two-year absence from office, a rare gap in almost three decades of involvement in high politics in the tiny country of only about 640,000 people.
A former communist who rose as part of a group of young politicians to prominence in the late 1980s, Djukanovic became Europe's youngest prime minister in 1991 at the age of 29.
Yugoslavia collapsed the same year, but Djukanovic remained a close ally of rump Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic until beginning to cut his own path in 1998, eventually leading Montenegro into independence from Serbia in 2006.
He has since pushed the country through sometimes painful economic times and toward European integration, highlighted by the 2017 accession into NATO.
But it hasn't always been smooth sailing.
Djukanovic, 56, has been dogged by opposition accusations that he fosters cronyism and corruption.
He came under investigation and was indicted by prosecutors in the Italian city of Bari in 2008 for alleged tobacco smuggling. The probe was later dropped given Djukanovic's diplomatic immunity.