Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Sunday said that his party had won a commanding victory in parliamentary elections, extending the populist outfit’s rule in the Balkan nation amid accusations of foul play by the opposition.
Official results were set to be announced late yesterday, but the president appeared certain of the performance of his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) just hours after the polls closed.
“We will have an absolute majority in parliament with 127 seats,” Vucic told reporters at a news conference, adding that about 76 percent of ballots had been counted.
Even though Vucic was not personally on the ballot in the parliamentary and local elections, the contest was largely seen as a referendum on his government.
“My job was to do everything in my power to secure an absolute majority in parliament,” Vucic told reporters as he celebrated what he said was the SNS’ victory.
The right-wing SNS looked poised to expand its presence in the 250-seat parliament with the results. During the last election last year, the party secured just 120 seats, resulting in a coalition government.
The SNS still faced potentially hard-fought municipal races in the capital, Belgrade, particularly from a loose coalition of opposition parties and candidates running under the Serbia Against Violence banner.
That movement was formed in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings earlier this year. They spurred hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in rallies that morphed into anti-government protests over several months.
The contest was not without controversy, with the opposition complaining of foul play.
“We call on all political actors in Serbia and the international community not to remain silent in the face of this brutal robbery,” said Djordje Miketic, a candidate linked with the Serbia Against Violence movement.
Opposition leader Radomir Lazovic earlier on Sunday also complained of numerous “irregularities,” citing alleged “vote-buying” and “falsification of signatures.”
“We may have had the dirtiest electoral process,” he said.
Posts on social media fueled rumors that the government allowed unregistered voters from neighboring Bosnia to cast ballots illegally in the election.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic dismissed the claims, accusing the reports of spreading chaos.
The opposition had pinned its hopes on a high turnout.
“I hope that by the end of the day, we’ll have a big turnout ... and that the voters will have the freedom to express their will,” said Dobrica Veselinovic, one of the leaders of the Serbia Against Violence movement.
Vucic was omnipresent ahead of the vote — plastered on billboards and skyscrapers, and the focus of wall-to-wall coverage on news channels. By the time polls opened at 7am, lines had already formed in Belgrade as people waited to cast their ballots.
“I came early to support our president, he must continue his work,” said Stojan Milenkovic, a 67-year-old retiree.
Others were hoping the contest would bring change to the nation’s political scene.
Along the southern border, hundreds of ethnic Serbs from the breakaway province of Kosovo crossed into Serbia to cast their votes.
The voters loaded onto more than a dozen buses and spent nearly two hours crossing the border, following the failure of Belgrade and Pristina to iron out a deal that would have allowed the Serbs to vote in Kosovo.
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