BELGRADE: Serbs are voting in Sunday’s election, where populist President Oleksandr Vucic plans to extend decades of rule, portraying himself as a guarantor of stability in the shadow of Ukraine’s war.
Voters appoint their head of state, 250 deputies, and several municipal councils, including Belgrade.
According to recent polls, Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Party of Progress (SNS, center-right) has to reaffirm its position in parliament, while the president himself is in a pole position for a second term.
“Personally, I see steady progress, and I voted in favor of it,” Milovan Krstic, 52, a civil servant, told AFP.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February changed the course of a campaign to focus on the environment, corruption and rights in the Balkan EU candidate country.
But Alexander Vuchich, who was accustomed to playing under the influence of competitors from East and West, took advantage of the war. In a country suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, as everywhere, he dispels fears of instability and presents himself as the only captain capable of piloting a ship in stormy weather. He campaigned under the slogan “Peace. Stability. Vucic.
“A huge victory»
“We hope for a huge victory,” he said, inserting his ballot into the ballot box. “The most important thing is to maintain peace, stability and ensure great economic progress.”
According to Cesid, a non-governmental organization that monitors the elections, at the end of the morning turnout was almost the same as in the 2020 parliamentary elections, about 14%.
The country, once considered an outcast, still has fond memories of the wars that sanctified the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia and of economic sanctions that hit the middle class hard.
In difficult weather, people prefer a leader who promises stability rather than risk change, Belgrade-based political science professor Zoran Stoilkovic told AFP: “Crises generate uncertainty, fear and hope that the system will guarantee at least basic security.”
Just a few months ago, the opposition seemed to have made a breakthrough in a country with a population of less than seven million.
In January, Oleksandr Vuchych canceled a controversial lithium mine project that mobilized tens of thousands of protesters, rarely seen during his decade as deputy prime minister, prime minister and then president.
Recent polls predict that the head of state, who is accused by critics of authoritarianism, will cross the 50% mark on Sunday, but the opposition still hopes that the high turnout will provoke a second round.
According to opinion polls, Oleksandr Vuchych’s main rival is retired General Zdravko Ponos, an unexpected candidate nominated by the pro-European opposition camp.
“I hope that these elections will be synonymous with serious changes in Serbia,” he said during the vote. “I believe in a bright future, and elections are the right way to change that.”
But opposition analysts had little chance of ousting the president or disrupting the outgoing parliament, which was almost entirely acquired by the pro-government coalition.
Serbia, where many people support the Kremlin war, is like a UFO in Europe.
Some opposition parties share these pro-Russian views. Those who do not share them do not dare to open their mouths for fear of being disliked by pro-Moscow voters.
Alexander Vuchich is armed with other advantages. During his long reign, he tightened control over all levels of government, including de facto control over institutions and almost all media.
For several months before the campaign, the president also distributed financial aid, forcing his critics to say he was trying to “buy” votes.
Polling stations close at 18:00 GMT. Unofficial results are expected in the evening.