Balkans – Elections in Serbia: the outgoing president claims a landslide victory

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The outgoing Serbian head of state Aleksandar Vucic claimed a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential election, extending a decade of grip on the Balkans.

Aleksandar Vucic casts his ballot box in Belgrade on April 3, 2022.

AFP

“There was no tension at any time,” outgoing President Aleksandar Vucic launched on Sunday in a victory speech in which he congratulated himself on having won another five-year term at the helm of Serbia from the outset with about 60% of the vote. “I am glad that a large number of people voted and demonstrated the democratic nature of Serbian society,” continued the man, who was successively Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister before becoming President.

Voters were urged to appoint their heads of state, their 250 deputies as well as several municipal councils, including the capital Belgrade.

Aleksandar Vucic declared that his Serbian Progress Party (SNS, center-right) had won almost 44% of the vote in the parliamentary elections. “With the Hungarian party, we have more than enough votes to form a majority,” he added.

However, the dominance of the ruling coalition should be less hegemonic than in the outgoing parliament. The official results are not expected to be announced until Monday night by the Election Commission.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February had changed the course of the campaign, which should have focused on the environment, corruption and rights in this Balkan country, which is a candidate for the EU.

Incidents, according to NGOs

But Aleksandar Vucic, accustomed to playing rival influences from East and West, seized the war to his advantage. In a country suffering as elsewhere from the coronavirus pandemic, he presents himself as the only one capable of steering the ship in stormy weather. He campaigned under the slogan “Peace. Stability. Vucic”. “The impact of the Ukrainian crisis on the election has been enormous,” the president commented.

NGOs reported incidents and violence, while opponents condemned the SNS’s attempts to intimidate voters in polling stations. Pavle Grbovic, leader of a center-left opposition party, claimed he was attacked by SNS activists while trying to film fraud in Belgrade. Aleksandar Vucic denied any irregularities.

Just a few months ago, the opposition appeared to have made a breakthrough in the country with less than seven million inhabitants. In January, Aleksandar Vucic canceled a controversial lithium-mine project that mobilized tens of thousands of protesters, a turnaround rarely seen in his decade as leader.

Ukrainian ridge line

Serbs from Kosovo, the former southern province never recognized by Belgrade, boarded 40 buses to take part in elections in neighboring Serbia, where Pristina had refused to organize electoral operations on the country’s land.

Aleksandar Vucic’s main rival, retired General Zdravko Ponos, had previously said he hoped for “serious change” in Serbia. “I believe in a bright future, and elections are the right way to change the situation,” he said.

The government has moved cautiously to deal with the crisis in Ukraine by officially condemning Russia at the UN, while refraining from any sanction against Moscow, while many Serbs support the Kremlin war. Some opposition parties share these pro-Russian views. The others did not dare to speak out for fear of displeasing pro-Moscow voters.

Aleksandar Vucic went to the polls armed with other benefits. During his long reign, he tightened his grip on all levels of power, including de facto control of institutions and almost all media. According to analysts, he enjoys a large electoral base consisting of officials and their relatives. In the months leading up to the campaign, the president also handed out financial support, prompting his critics to say he was looking to “buy” votes.

(AFP)

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