Serbia’s ruling SNS set to win election, Vucic declares victory

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – President Aleksandar Vucic declared victory in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday, after pollsters projected his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was on track to easily win.

Based on votes counted in a sample of polling stations, pollsters Ipsos and CeSID predicted the populist SNS won 46.2% of votes, while the opposition center-left Serbia Against Violence (SPN) alliance is set to come second with 23.2%.

“This is an absolute victory and it makes me happy,” Vucic said after projections were made.

The Socialist Party of Serbia of outgoing foreign minister Ivica Dacic was seen coming in third with 6.7% of the vote.

The parliamentary election, the fifth since 2012, coincides with local elections in most municipalities, the capital Belgrade and the northern province of Vojvodina.

The pollsters also said that SNS won the most votes in Belgrade with 38.6% of the vote for city council and mayor, while the opposition SPN came second with 35% of the vote.

With its population of 1.4 million people, Belgrade represents about a quarter of Serbia’s electorate, and its mayor is seen as one of the most influential officials in Serbia.

CeSID and IPSOS reported a number of irregularities including organised arrivals of voters at polling stations, photographing of ballots, and procedural errors.

Serbia Against Violence accused the ruling party of election fraud and said it would complain to the state election commission.

“We have witnessed a serious attempt to steal elections,” Miroslav Aleksic, one of its leaders, said on Sunday evening.

A total of 18 parties and alliances competed for the support of the 6.5 million-strong electorate for 250 seats in parliament. The threshold for entering parliament is 3% of votes.

The preliminary vote count suggested SNS will have a slim majority of at least 127 deputies, enough to rule alone, but it is expected to seek coalition partners to cement its dominance of parliament.

Two mass shootings in May, resulting in 18 deaths, including nine elementary school students, triggered protests that shook Vucic and the SNS’s decade-long grip on power. The discontent was made worse by rising inflation, which hit 8% in November.

Opposition parties and rights watchdogs also accuse Vucic and the SNS of bribing voters, stifling media freedom, violence against opponents, corruption and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies deny these allegations.

The state Election Commission said election monitors from the CRTA watchdog were attacked in northern Serbia. One person was later arrested in connection with the incident, police said.

By law, the parliament must be convened within two weeks after the official announcement of final election results, and the parties then have 60 days to form a government.

Serbia, a candidate to join the European Union, must first normalise relations with Kosovo, its former predominantly Albanian province that declared independence in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising in the late 1990s. EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina are stalled and tensions remain high.

Serbia is also required to root out corruption and organised crime, liberalise the economy and align its foreign policies with those of the EU, including the introduction of sanctions against its traditional ally Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Alex Richardson, Alison Williams, Giles Elgood and Deepa Babington)