The FINANCIAL — Milo Djukanovic, whose party has won Montenegro's parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to exit polls, remains an indestructible political phenomenon in a Balkans country on the road to the European Union.
He was first prime minister by the tender age of 29 and weathered the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s to lead his country to independence from Serbia in 2006.
Athletically built with a mane of grey hair, Djukanovic is the only leader in the volatile region to have held on to power almost uninterrupted since the start of the Balkans wars.
Born in the central town of Niksic in 1962, Djukanovic, now 50, is an economist by training, but began his political career in the 1980s, while Montenegro was a part of communist Yugoslavia.
He rose rapidly through the communist party ranks, becoming a youth leader as well as winning over old-time party members to be named prime minister in 1991 with the support of Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
A year later he saw Yugoslavia disintegrate as Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia declared independence. As EUbusiness reported, during the bloody Balkans wars that followed, Djukanovic and the rest of the government in Podgorica backed Milosevic.
In 1996 he took the decisive step to break ranks with hardliners in the Yugoslav federation, and became one of the fiercest critics of the Milosevic regime.
After he was first elected president in 1998, Djukanovic shed his old communist-era ideology and opened Montenegro to the outside world.
He stopped cooperating with Milosevic's regime even as NATO jets bombed targets in Montenegro and Serbia during its 1999 air campaign against Yugoslav forces over the Kosovo conflict.
But after Milosevic was ousted in October 2000, Djukanovic failed to adapt to the changed geopolitical realities of the Balkans.
His ambitions for Montenegro's independence were suddenly out of favour with his European backers, who were trying to consolidate the region's new borders.
In 2002 Djukanovic resigned from the post of president and took over as prime minister.
He was pressured to sign an agreement with Belgrade in March 2003 to stay within a loose union, called Serbia and Montenegro, for at least three years. However he remained a tireless campaigner for independence.
The May 21, 2006 referendum which saw Montenegro break with Belgrade was the crowning moment of his political career.
But the veteran leader also found himself at the centre of corruption allegations, and was named as a suspect in an Italian inquiry into alleged trafficking in cigarettes and people across the Adriatic Sea.
He stepped down from office in October 2006 after 16 years in politics, saying he was tired and wanted to focus on business.
Only 16 months later, he accepted his Democratic Party of Socialists' call to once more take the helm of the government, after prime minister Zeljko Sturanovic resigned for health reasons.
He has repeatedly denied the cigarette-smuggling allegations, and voluntarily went for questioning by Italian prosecutors in Bari in March 2008. Accusations against him were dropped afterwards.
Keeping a promise that he would step down when Montenegro obtained European Union candidacy status, Djukanovic resigned in December 2010. This time, he remained at the helm of the DPS.
After his party's election victory Sunday rumours that he would return as prime minister quickly started circulating, but on the campaign trail he would not be drawn to say if he would seek a another term in office.
A die-hard basketball fan and amateur player, Djukanovic is married and has one son.