Outgoing president claims second mandate

Montenegro's Filip Vujanovic claimed victory in the Balkan state's presidential election, afters monitors estimated a lead of 52.4 percent based on more than 86 percent of the count. Montenegro split from neighbouring Serbia two years ago.


Montenegro's President Filip Vujanovic was on course for an emphatic victory Sunday in the first presidential elections of the tiny Balkan state since it split from Serbia.

Vujanovic, a senior member of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was leading with 52.4 percent of votes, based on more than 86 percent of the count by monitors CEMI.

The latest results gave pro-Serb challenger Andrija Mandic 19.3 percent and anti-corruption campaigner Nebojsa Medojevic 17 percent.

The figures were announced after the 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) close of polling stations across Montenegro in its first presidential elections since it split from Serbia two years ago.

"According to results that are arriving in the DPS campaign headquarters, the expected is happening," Predrag Sekulic, a senior DPS official, told national television.

"For the moment, Filip Vujanovic is convincingly winning and I think the elections will be finished in the first round," he added.

CEMI, a non-governmental organisation, had put the turnout at a strong 67.4 percent half an hour before voting ended. The poll was observed by more than 800 local and international monitors.

In campaigning, Vujanovic had promised to continue Montenegro's integration with the European Union and NATO.

The 53-year-old lawyer capitalised on Montenegro's independence and the popularity of its architect, Milo Djukanovic, who became prime minister for the fifth time in February and has effectively been in power since 1991.

"The elections will show citizens have opted for the state policy of continuing the integration of Montenegro into the European Union," a smiling Vujanovic said earlier in the day as he cast his ballot at a school in the capital Podgorica.

Mandic, the leader of the Serbian Alliance party, had pledged stronger ties with Belgrade and stood against Montenegro's membership of NATO, while Medojevic fiercely criticised the DPS's alleged links to organised crime.

Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation of 650,000 people wedged between mountains and the Adriatic Sea, split from its long-time partner Serbia in June 2006 after a historic independence referendum.

The election was held against a backdrop of tensions in the volatile region following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17.

Despite having a key ethnic Albanian minority, Montenegro has yet to join former Yugoslav states Croatia and Slovenia in recognising Kosovo, wary of upsetting Serbs who make up more than 30 percent of its 650,000 population.

"I voted for Filip Vujanovic because I'm convinced he's the most responsible and most capable" candidate, a pensioner said after voting at a huge communist-era Podgorica school serving as a polling station.

Vujanovic would "make sure that Montenegro joins the European Union," said the 81-year-old retired lawyer who declined to give his name.

A 53-year-old unemployed man who only identified himself as Rajo said he was voting for a new leader because "it is time to change this corrupt country, but I doubt that change will occur."

Among other major election issues were: building on a tourism boom that brought economic growth of eight percent in 2007, reducing unemployment and poverty, and the fight against crime and corruption.

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