May 26, 2022

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Serbians cast votes in polls overshadowed by war in Ukraine

Serbians cast votes in polls overshadowed by war in Ukraine

Serbians head to the polls on Sunday in elections that will likely see populist President Aleksandar Vucic extend his rule in the Balkan country, as he vows to provide stability amid war raging in Ukraine.

The country of around seven million will elect the president, deputies for the 250-seat parliament and cast votes in several municipal contests.

According to the latest opinion polls, Vucic’s centre-right Serbian Progressive Party is expected to maintain its control over the parliament, while the president is in pole position for a second term.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a long shadow over a contest that observers had earlier predicted would focus on environmental issues, corruption and rights.

Vucic has deftly used the return of war in Europe along with the coronavirus pandemic to his advantage, promising voters continued stability amid uncertain headwinds.

“These crises have shaken much stronger economies than ours, but we are completely stable. We are successfully facing the challenges,” the president wrote recently in a widely published op-ed, vowing to raise wages and pensions if elected again.

Only a few months ago, the opposition seemed to have momentum.

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

The move was a rare defeat for Vucic who has rotated through a range of positions including prime minister, president and deputy premier along with a stint as the defence chief during a decade in power.

The latest polls predict that he will win again on Sunday, even as the opposition hopes a high turnout on election day could force a run-off.

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Analysts, however, say the opposition has little chance of dethroning Vucic or eating away at his coalition in the parliament, which possesses a lion’s share of the legislator’s 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 hold a favourable view of the Kremlin.

The opposition in turn has largely refrained from attacking Vucic’s position on the war, fearing any call for harsher measures against Russia would backfire at the ballot box.

Vucic will also head into elections with a plethora of other advantages.

Following a decade at the helm, Vucic has increasingly tightened his grip over the various levers of power, including de-facto control over much of the press and government services.

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

Polling stations are open from 0500 GMT to 1800 GMT on Sunday, with unofficial results due later in the evening.