By Aleksandar Vasovic
PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro's ruling party seemed assured of retaining power after exit polls following a parliamentary election on Sunday indicated it took some 46 percent of the vote, more than twice its nearest rival.
That would see the Democratic Party of Socialists extend its two-decade grip on power as the former Yugoslav republic tries to join the European Union. DPS leader Milo Djukanovic may return as prime minister, a post he has held three times before.
Exit polls released by state television and Podgorica University put the DPS on 46 percent and the opposition Democratic Front alliance a distant second on 20 percent.
A poll by CEMI, a group monitoring the elections, gave the DPS 48.4 percent to 22.5 percent for the DF.
The DPS remains popular despite economic troubles and persistent complaints about corruption for having championed independence from Serbia six years ago.
The election was held some six months ahead of schedule, as the ruling coalition sought a fresh mandate during negotiations on Montenegro's eventual accession to the European Union.
Djukanovic, as either premier or president, has been the dominant political figure in the nation of 680,000 since communist Yugoslavia collapsed 20 years ago.
Italian prosecutors once accused him of involvement in massive cigarette smuggling during Yugoslavia's international isolation in the 1990s, but he was cleared of all charges.
Should its secure less than 50 percent, the DPS will need continued support from ethnic minority representatives in the 81-seat parliament to form a government.
(Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)