(Podgorica) Montenegrin voters vote on Sunday in a presidential election that pits Milo Djukanovic, a veteran of the tiny Balkan country’s political scene, against candidates who hope to move the lines.

The ballot is being played out after months of blockage in the country bordering the Adriatic, known for its breathtaking landscapes. The government was overthrown by a motion of no confidence in August, but is still in control.

Incumbent President Milo Djukanovic dissolved parliament days before the presidential polls and called early parliamentary elections for June 11, after a former diplomat, Miodrag Lekic, failed to form a new government.

In this country of 620,000 inhabitants, the president essentially has a representative role and the prime minister holds the main levers of power.

Milo Djukanovic, 61, nevertheless remains an important figure, having ruled Montenegro almost continuously for three decades. A former close friend of Belgrade strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he rallied to the Western camp and secured his country’s divorce from Serbia in 2006.

But his star faded during the 2020 legislative elections lost by his formation, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). Milo Djukanovic had just led a battle in the name of national sovereignty against the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Since these elections, no camp has succeeded in building a stable majority and the country is going from crisis to crisis.

Seven candidates are running for president. If none manages to gather more than 50% of the vote, the most likely scenario according to analysts, a second round will take place on April 2.

Andrija Mandic, 59, of the pro-Russian Democratic Front, Aleksa Becic, 35, of the Democrats (centre-right) party and Jakov Milatovic, 37, of Europe Now, a formation which seems to have the wind in its sails, will be the opponents the most formidable of Djukanovic.

A defeat for the outgoing head of state could mean a change of course for a country whose European prospects are clouded by accusations of corruption and the slow pace of reform.

“These elections will determine whether Montenegro will stick to its current foreign policy goals or whether they will change under Russian-Serbian influence,” said political scientist Daliborka Uljarevic.

Under the aegis of Djukanovic, Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, has been negotiating its membership of the European Union since 2012 and has left the Russian sphere of influence.

But the rule of Milo Djukanovic and the DPS has been marred by accusations of widespread corruption and connections to organized crime.

Many residents are without illusions. “For the first time, I will not participate in the elections. I am disappointed with the government which promised reforms and rapid entry into the EU,” said Anja, a 32-year-old lawyer who requested anonymity. “Young people are leaving the country, because they have no prospects here.”

The results are expected in the evening.