(Bloomberg) -- Milo Djukanovic, who’s seeking another term as Montenegro’s president, won the most votes in a Sunday ballot though he fell short of outright victory, state broadcaster RTCG reported, citing a local polling group.

Djukanovic, 61, who led the Adriatic nation to independence from fellow former Yugoslav republic Serbia in 2006 and later into NATO, won 35.3% of the votes cast against 29.3% for runner-up Jakov Milatovic, a former economy minister and Oxford-educated banker nominated by an upstart, pro-European Union party, according to Podgorica-based Center for Monitoring and Research. 

The winner needs more than 50% of the vote, and a runoff is expected in two weeks.

While the post of president is mostly ceremonial, the vote is important for general elections set for June 11 that may resolve a protracted political deadlock and institutional crisis in the tourism-dependent country of 620,000 people. It’s been run by a caretaker government since August and its bid to join the EU has all but stalled.

Djukanovic has served as prime minister or president almost continuously since 1991. Originally a Communist and an ally of Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, he transformed into a staunchly pro-Western leader who ditched his ties to Russia, once the country’s biggest investor, and supports sanctions imposed on the Kremlin over the invasion of Ukraine.

His Democratic Party of Socialists, or DPS, was defeated in 2020 parliamentary elections but remains the biggest in the country. Motley coalitions that have formed governments since, comprising more than a dozen disparate groups ranging from conservative and pro-Russian to pro-Western and liberal, failed to maintain unity and stability. Two governments collapsed last year.

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Djukanovic ran against six challengers, most of whom accuse him of corruption, divisive policies and condoning organized crime, which he denies. If he prevails in the April 2 runoff, it would be his second consecutive term and third overall. He also served as the head of state from 1998 to 2003.  

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