By Miodrag Sovilj and David Stout

Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic won a landslide victory in the general election on Sunday, paving the way for a new presidential term and extending his decade-long rule in the Balkan nation.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the public after the publication of the first unofficial results of the parliamentary elections, in Belgrade, April 3, 2022. Elvis Barukcic / AFP

Official results were due to be announced on Monday evening, but Vucic appeared confident in his impressive performance just hours after polls closed, saying a run-off would not be needed.

“I am happy that a large number of people voted and showed the democratic nature of Serbian society,” Vucic announced during a televised victory speech, saying he had obtained around 60% of the vote.

“At no time was there any suspense,” he added.

The country of around seven million went to the polls to elect the president and members of the 250-seat parliament and voted in several municipal contests.

Polls ahead of the election predicted Vucic’s centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) would maintain control of parliament, while the president wins a second term.

“Personally, I see stable progress and I voted in accordance with this opinion,” Milovan Krstic, a 52-year-old civil servant, told AFP after voting in Belgrade.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a shadow over the competition, which observers say will focus on environmental issues, corruption and rights.

Vucic has skillfully used the return of war in Europe as well as the coronavirus pandemic to his advantage, promising voters continued stability in uncertain headwinds.

“The influence of the Ukrainian crisis on the election results was huge,” the president said in his victory speech.

After Vucic’s speech, the main Serbian opposition candidate, Zdravko Ponos, remained defiant.

“These elections are (the) beginning of the end for Aleksandar Vucic…we won’t spoil this,” Ponos said.

In the capital Belgrade, the election was briefly marred by scuffles between parliamentary candidate Pavle Grbovic and Vucic’s SNS supporters, as well as scattered reports of petty skirmishes and voter intimidation.

During his victory speech later, Vucic dismissed any allegations of foul play.

The country’s electoral commission has predicted turnout is likely to hover around 60%, a jump of nearly 10 points from the last general election in 2020.

Serbs from the former breakaway province of Kosovo also took part in the contest and boarded around 40 northbound buses to vote, after authorities in Pristina refused to allow polling stations on its ground.

A decade in power

A few months before the election, the opposition seemed to have gained momentum.

In January, Vucic shut down a controversial lithium mine project following mass protests that saw tens of thousands take to the streets.

The move was a rare defeat for Vucic, who served in a variety of positions including prime minister, president and deputy prime minister, as well as a stint as defense chief for a decade in power.

In the run-up to the election, polls predicted Vucic would win again on Sunday, even though the opposition had hoped high turnout might force a runoff.

Analysts, however, said the opposition was unlikely to dethrone Vucic or eat away at his ruling parliamentary coalition, which holds the lion’s share of seats.

The president has also carefully managed the country’s response to the war in Ukraine by officially condemning Russia at the United Nations but stopping short of sanctioning Moscow at home, where many Serbs have a favorable view of the Kremlin.

The opposition, in turn, has largely refrained from attacking Vucic’s position on the conflict, fearing that any calls for tougher measures against Russia will backfire at the polls.

Vucic also headed into the election with a plethora of other upsides.

After a decade at the helm, he has increasingly tightened his grip on the various levers of power, including de facto control of much of the media and government departments.

In the months leading up to the campaign, the president rolled out a range of financial aid offers to select groups, prompting critics to say he was trying to “buy” votes ahead of the contest.


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