PODGORICA - The people of Montenegro began voting Sunday in polls expected to see pro-Western six-time former prime minister Milo Djukanovic elected as president of the tiny Balkan nation that is aspiring to join the EU. Having dominated politics in the former Yugoslav republic for nearly 25 years, Djukanovic stepped down as prime minister in October 2016. He announced his comeback bid last month.

The 56-year-old economist led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in 2016 and into NATO last year -- now he wants to take the predominantly Orthodox country, a part of which has strong pro-Russia sympathies, into the European Union. If he wins the presidency, currently a ceremonial post held by his ally Filip Vujanovic, it is expected to become the real seat of power in the country of 620,000 people. Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and will close at 8pm, with first results expected shortly afterwards.

Djukanovic is the most high-profile of the seven candidates, with posters plastered all over the capital Podgorica -- where a third of Montenegro's population lives -- proclaiming him as "leader, statesman and president of all citizens".

Opinion polls indicate he is such a strong favourite that he may be able to win more than half of the votes, which would rule out a run-off planned for April 29. "I will win today," Djukanovic said after voting.