Montenegro's ruling party faces its toughest test in 27 years in power on Sunday, when it hopes its election promise to bring the country into NATO and closer to the European Union will outweigh opposition allegations of cronyism and corruption.
The Western alliance invited the tiny Balkan country of 620,000 to join last year, partly out of concern at Russian influence in Montenegro, which has strong cultural and commercial links to its traditional Orthodox Christian ally.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, 54, presents the election as a choice between continuing Western integration under his Democratic Party of Socialists or being reduced to a "Russian colony" under the opposition.
"Do we want stable, prosperous and European Montenegro or will we be a country of backwardness, violence and hopelesness," Djukanovic asked supporters at a final rally on Thursday. "Will we be a Russian colony in the Balkans?"
Djukanovic accuses opposition parties, some also pro-Western, of taking Russian money. Both they and Russia deny this. The opposition says the allegations are a smokescreen to cover for the culture of cronyism Djukanovic has allowed to flourish over his quarter-century of dominance in the country.
Parts of Montenegro were bombed by NATO when the alliance intervened in 1999 to end a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by Serbia, with which Montenegro was then in a state union. Ties with ethnic kin in neighbouring Serbia remain strong.
For Russia, Djukanovic told supporters, Sunday's parliamentary vote was Moscow's last chance to derail the Balkan region's wholesale rush towards NATO and EU membership, widely seen as the best prospect for stability and growth in a region that was wracked by war for much of the 1990s.
The former Yugoslav republic's economy has grown at an average of 3.2 percent a year for the past decade, thanks mainly to foreign, especially Russian, investment in energy, mining and tourism in a country known for its spectacular mountains and sea coast. But opposition parties say organized crime has flourished on Djukanovic's watch.
At an opposition rally in the capital Podgorica, hundreds of backers of the Democratic Front (DF), an alliance of pro-Serb and pro-Western parties, waved Serb, Russian and Montenegrin flags, chanting their campaign slogan "Us or Him." "Djukanovic, step down peacefully on Sunday if you love Montenegro," said Nebojsa Medojevic, a pro-Western politician and one of DF leaders.
Montenegro was invited to join NATO in December, a decision yet to be ratified by Podgorica and existing member-states. Moscow has warned of consequences if the Adriatic republic joins the alliance, already angered by its decision to join the EU's policy of sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
The Democratic Front, Montenegro's main opposition bloc, calls for closer ties with Russia and is against membership of either the EU or NATO, demanding a referendum on joining military alliance.
"The outcome of the election will definitely decide: is Montenegro joining NATO... because one part of the opposition is clearly insisting on stopping that process," said Zlatko Vujovic, director of the Centre for Monitoring and Research.
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Research Associate at Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University