PODGORICA: Montenegro's six-time prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who dominated politics in the tiny Balkan nation for decades before stepping down in 2016, announced his comeback Monday by saying he will run for president in next month's vote.
Pro-Western Djukanovic rose to prominence in the twilight years of communist Yugoslavia and served six terms as premier and once as president before quitting politics for a third time two years ago.
His resignation followed the narrowest-ever victory of his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in a parliamentary vote marred by allegations of a failed coup attempt allegedly aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining NATO.
Djukanovic was succeeded by one of his allies Dusko Markovic, former national security chief.
"This decision is the expression of my responsibility towards the legacy and needs of Montenegro's future development," Djukanovic, 56, told reporters Monday after the DPS' main board unanimously backed his candidacy for the April 15 vote.
His main opponent will be businessman Mladen Bojanic, supported by the opposition pro-Russian Democratic Front, Democrats of Montenegro and Citizen's movement URA.
The three parties polled in January as having 37 percent support among voters.
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Born in the central town of Niksic in 1962, Djukanovic is an economist by training who rose rapidly through the communist party ranks in the 1980s, becoming a youth leader and winning over old-time party members.
As the volatile region teetered on the brink of war in February 1991, he became prime minister at the tender age of 29.
At the time France was led by Francois Mitterrand, Britain by John Major and Germany by Helmut Kohl, while the Soviet Union still existed.
When Yugoslavia disintegrated in a series of bloody conflicts in the early 1990s as other republics declared their independence, Djukanovic backed Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
But in 1996 he took the decisive step to break ranks with hardliners in the rump Yugoslav federation -- made up of just Serbia and Montenegro.
He became one of the fiercest critics of the Milosevic regime and an advocate of independence.
Elected president in 1998, Djukanovic shed his old communist-era ideology and opened the country to the outside world.
He has since won praise for guiding the Adriatic state to NATO membership and the doorstep of the European Union, but he has also found himself at the centre of corruption allegations.
Djukanovic was named as a suspect in an Italian enquiry into 1990s cigarette smuggling but repeatedly denied the allegations against him.
The case was eventually dropped in 2009 because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.
Seen as a dynamic reformist by some and an authoritarian leader by others, Djukanovic led Montenegro's peaceful break-up from Serbia -- its often-troubled partner for around 90 years -- in 2006.
He encouraged a strong flow of Russian investment -- notably in real estate -- after independence, but he has since become more committed to closer ties with Western countries.
Montenegro, home to some 620,000 people, opened EU membership talks in 2012 and became a NATO member five years later.
The current head of state is Filip Vujanovic.