PODGORICA - Pro-European Union leader Milo Djukanovic has won Montenegro's presidential election to extend his dominance over the country's politics.
The state election commission said on Monday a preliminary count showed he won 54.1 percent of Sunday's vote with 97 percent counted and Mladen Bojanic won 33.2 percent on a 63.9 percent turnout. Bojanic is a businessman backed by an alliance of parties some of whom want closer ties with Russia.
Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) led the Balkan republic of 620,000 people into NATO last year and he has pledged to complete talks for European Union membership.
He also said last week he would welcome improved relations with Russia. Relations soured when Montenegro introduced sanctions against Moscow in 2014 over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
Djukanovic has dominated national politics as prime minister or president since 1991. He stepped down as prime minister in 2016 but announced his comeback last month.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Sunday's vote respected fundamental freedoms but Djukanovic "held an institutional advantage."
"They (candidates) were not able to compete on a level playing field, as the frontrunner enjoyed the advantages that the ruling party ... has consolidated over 27 years in power," Tana de Zulueta, head of the OSCE observation mission told a news conference in the capital Podgorica.
There were few irregularities on election day, she said.
Full results would come this week and there is a complaints procedure.
"There were cases of misuse of state resources and credible allegations of pressure on voters in favour of the ruling party candidate," Jonas Gunnarson of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe told a news conference.
The presidency is largely ceremonial but Djukanovic can wield power through 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.
During the campaign, opposition leaders accused Djukanovic and the DPS of fostering corruption, nepotism, cronyism and ties with organized 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.