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Djukanovic claims victory in Montenegro elections

The head of Montenegro’s ruling party has claimed victory following Sunday’s parliamentary election. Milo Djukanovic pledged to keep the small Balkan country on course for eventual membership in the European Union.

Former Prime Minister and President Milo Djukanovic claimed victory for his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) on the basis of exit polls and an unofficial vote count by CEMI, an non-governmental election monitoring group.

CEMI's figures gave the DPS 45.6 percent of the votes, with more than 90 percent of the votes counted.

"Dear friends, we have won," Djukanovic told supporters at his party's headquarters in Podgorica late on Sunday. "We have all the conditions to start working from tomorrow (Monday) on the formation of a government that will lead Montenegro on the path to European Union and NATO integration and improve the quality of life for all citizens."

But the leader of the main opposition bloc Democratic Front, Miodrag Lekic, noted that despite its victory, the figures suggested the DPS would be forced to enter into a coalition with a smaller party in order to gain a parliamentary majority.

"The regime which has led Montenegro so far does not have enough seats to form the government alone," Lekic told reporters. "This is the beginning of the end for the DPS."

The Democratic Front trailed well behind the DPS with 23.8 percent of the vote. Official results were expected to be announced later on Monday.

If they confirm the unofficial figures, this will be the third consecutive election victory for the DPS since Montenegro split off from Serbia in 2006. Djukanovic, who has faced corruption charges in the past, has been the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. He stepped down as prime minister two years ago, handing power to his hand-picked successor, Igor Luksic.

The party's victory sparked rumors that Djukanovic could seek to return to the post of prime minister, but neither he nor any other DPS official commented on who might lead the next government.

Sunday's vote came six months ahead of schedule, as the DPS sought a fresh mandate after the European Union agreed in June to opend accession talks with Montenegro.

Although Montenegro experienced an economic boom between 2006 and 2008, fueled by tourism and foreign investment, growth has slowed to just 0.5 percent this year due to rising public debt and spillover effects from the eurozone crisis. Djukanovic's DPS has also faced accusations of cronyism and corruption.

pfd/ch (Reuters, AFP, dpa)