PODGORICA, Montenegro — Voters in Montenegro are casting ballots Sunday in a presidential election marked by political turmoil and uncertainty over whether or not the small NATO member state within the Balkans will unblock its bid to hitch the European Union or search to enhance ties with Serbia and Russia.

Analysts predict that Montenegro’s presidential election is not going to produce a transparent winner and that incumbent Milo Djukanovic, 61, will face certainly one of a number of challengers in a runoff vote in two weeks. Although the presidency is essentially ceremonial in Montenegro, the poll is seen as a key indicator of in style sentiments forward of an early parliamentary election set for June 11.

Djukanovic’s opponents embody a pacesetter of the staunchly pro-Serbia and pro-Russia Standard Entrance social gathering, Andrija Mandic, economist Jakov Milatovic of the newly-formed Europe Now group and former parliament speaker Aleksa Becic.

Observers say Milatovic, who served within the authorities elected after the 2020 parliamentary vote however later cut up from the ruling coalition, could stand the very best probability of constructing it into the runoff in opposition to Djukanovic.

Djukanovic and his Democratic Celebration of Socialists led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2006, and defied Russia to hitch NATO in 2017. An alliance dominated by events in search of nearer ties with Serbia and Russia ousted DPS from energy in 2020.

The brand new ruling alliance, nonetheless, quickly plunged into disarray, which stalled Montenegro’s path towards the EU and created a political impasse. The most recent authorities fell in a no-confidence vote in August however has remained in workplace for months due to the stalemate.

Djukanovic — who has served a number of instances as each president and prime minister up to now 30 years — has seen his recognition plummet following the ouster in 2020 of a DPS-dominated coalition. He now hopes to regain belief amongst Montenegro’s roughly 540,000 eligible voters and assist pave the best way for his social gathering’s return to energy.

Djukanovic has portrayed the presidential election as a selection between an impartial Montenegro and a rustic managed by neighboring Serbia and Russia.

“Just a few years in the past, nobody might think about that we might as soon as once more wage a decisive battle for the survival of Montenegro,” he instructed supporters. “Sadly, with the change of energy two and a half years in the past, the horizon of European values has been irresponsibly closed.”

The political chaos and stalled reforms in a rustic lengthy seen as the subsequent in line for European Union membership has alarmed U.S. and EU officers, who worry Russia might attempt to stir hassle within the Balkans to divert consideration from the conflict in Ukraine.

Montenegro’s 620,000 residents stay deeply divided between supporters of Djukanovic’s insurance policies and people who view themselves as Serbs and need Montenegro to ally itself with Serbia and fellow-Slavic Russia.

The Standard Entrance social gathering’s Mandic, who was accused of being a part of a Russia-orchestrated 2016 coup try, has sought to current himself as a conciliatory determine through the marketing campaign, saying his essential purpose as president could be to bridge the Montenegrin divide.

Milatovic, the economist, has accused Djukanovic and his social gathering of corruption, saying the president’s last removing from energy is critical for Montenegro to maneuver ahead.

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