Serbia’s populist right-wing president predicts re-election

BELGRADE, Serbia – President Aleksandar Vucic and his populist right-wing party appeared headed for victory in Sunday’s national elections, extending decades of authoritarian rule in the Balkan country, early pollsters predicted.

IPSOS and CESID pollsters, who have proven reliable in previous Serbian elections, predicted that Vucic would end up receiving nearly 60 percent of the vote. If confirmed in the official tally, Vucic would win a second five-year term as president and a runoff election would not be required.

The pollsters predicted that Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party would get the most votes in the parliamentary election with around 43 percent, followed by the opposition group United for the Victory of Serbia with around 13 percent.

Serbia’s state electoral authorities said they would not make any official vote counting announcements before Monday.

Opposition allegations of widespread irregularities marked Serbia’s national elections on Sunday.

About 6.5 million voters were eligible to elect the country’s president and a new parliament, and elections for local authorities were held in the capital, Belgrade, and over a dozen other cities and towns. Turnout was reported an hour before polls closed at about 55 percent, higher than in most Serbian elections.

Opposition groups said on Sunday several irregularities were detected during the vote. Opposition election controllers reported widespread ghost voting – voting under the names of people who are dead or nonexistent – ​​as well as ruling party activists offering money in exchange for votes.

Serbian voters cast their ballots at a polling station in the parliamentary elections in Belgrade on Sunday. AFP Getty Images

An opposition leader was attacked in front of Vucic’s party office in a Belgrade suburb and suffered facial injuries. A ruling party official was reportedly attacked in downtown Nis.

Vucic, a former ultranationalist who boasts of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has sought to portray himself as a guarantor of stability amid the turmoil raging in Europe over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After the vote in Belgrade, Vucic said he expected Serbia to continue on the path of “stability, calm and peace”.

“I believe in a meaningful and compelling win and believe that everyone gets what they deserve,” he said.

In a country that experienced a series of wars in the 1990s and a NATO bombing in 1999, fears of conflict spillover have played into Vucic’s hands. Though Serbia is formally aspiring to join the 27-nation European Union, Vucic has maintained close ties with Russia and China, capitalizing on Serb resentment towards the West over NATO’s 1999 air war.

Serbia has backed a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Belgrade has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow, a historic Slavic ally.

Even beleaguered opposition groups have so far largely refrained from publicly advocating a harder line towards Moscow. Russia has backed Serbia’s claim to Kosovo, a former province that declared Western-backed independence in 2008.

After boycotting Serbia’s previous vote in 2020, the main opposition parties said Sunday’s vote was also far from free and fair due to Vucic’s dominance of mainstream media and state institutions.

Vucic’s main opponent in the presidential election comes from a centrist-conservative coalition, United for Victory of Serbia, which includes the main opposition parties. General Zdravko Ponos, a Western-educated former army chief of staff, is hoping to lead Vucic to the second round of the presidential election.

“These elections will [bring] serious change in Serbia,” said Ponos after voting. “I hope that Serbian citizens will accept it [a] Opportunity today.”

Reports surfaced ahead of the vote of ballots being mailed to non-resident addresses, leading to warnings from the opposition of potential fraud. But Serbia’s ruling populists have denied rigging ballots or pressuring voters.

Her standing in the capital has been lower than in the rest of the country, partly due to a series of corruption-ridden construction projects that have devastated Belgrade’s city core.

A green-left coalition, Moramo or We Must, is contesting the elections for the first time, campaigning against discontent in Belgrade and anger over Serbia’s numerous environmental problems. The group has led thousands to protest against lithium mining in Serbia and calls for cleaner air, rivers and land.

Since his party came to power in 2012, Vucic has served as defense minister, prime minister and president. Serbia’s populist right-wing president predicts re-election

Caroline Bleakley

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