Serbia’s PM claims poll victory, reaffirms pro-EU direction

The lead-up to the poll was dominated by concerns over Serbia’s economy and a growing divide between pro- and anti-European sentiment.

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It’s a gamble that has appeared to have paid off for Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, claiming victory in snap elections.

Preliminary results have shown his Progressive Party, SNS, has won almost 50 per cent of the vote, enough to hand it a majority in the 25-seat National Assembly.

Mr Vucic has described the win as a great honour.

“Serbian citizens again honoured us to lead this country’s government. This is a great honour, which brings great responsibility with it.”

Mr Vucic had called the surprise elections two years ahead of schedule.

He’d said he wanted a clear mandate from the 6.7 million Serbian voters to go ahead with reforms aimed at achieving full European Union membership within the next few years.

His openly pro-Europe stance has put him at odds with the ultra-nationalist Radical Party, led by Vojislav Seselj.

Mr Seselj, who was recently acquitted by a United Nations tribunal of war crimes in the 1990s, has been vocal in his support for a closer relationship with Russia, and away from pro-Western policies.

Program Director at Serbia’s Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, Ivo Colovic, says Mr Seselj’s return has been the main driver behind the party’s resurgent popularity.

“I believe that the last elections in 2014, it was a bad campaign and they were divided in a couple of political parties. This time we have two of those political parties there and they are united in one coalition. The other party, the Serbian Radical Party, have got their leader back from the Hague Tribunal, Vojislav Seselj, he came back from the Hague Tribunal and he brought them a couple of more percent.”

He says Mr Vucic’s desire to join the E-U could damage Serbia’s relationship with Russia.

“That’s the proclaimed goal of every government here in Serbia, no one wants to say okay we will completely turn our back on Russia, no one wants to say that because it won’t be a popular move here in Serbia, because Russia is the only great power that we didn’t have any conflict with. People in Serbia simply like their friendship with Russia. They believe that Russia will help Serbia in every complicated and difficult situation in international relationships. But I believe if Serbia remains on this course towards the EU it will complicate our relationship with Russia a little bit.”

Experts had predicted the Radical Party would pick up just under 8 per cent of votes, making them the third-largest party in parliament.

Mr Seselj has vowed to stay true to his policies.

“Of course, we will fight against all pro-Western political parties. The way they are now in this parliament, where there is going to be four political parties in total, the Radicals will be alone against everyone.”

Prime Minister Vucic has also had to contend with a shaky economy, agreeing to austerity measures as part of a billion-dollar loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

Along with this, the Democrats, also pro-EU, have accused his ruling Progressive Party of giving some voters ballot papers that had already been filled out to guarantee themselves more votes.

But Ivo Colovic says he doesn’t believe the final outcome was influenced in any way.

“We have a very uneducated and unprofessional electoral administration. That is probably the main reason for this allegation and for these not very well-organised elections, but I don’t think those things influenced the result of the election. It was a couple of small cases and small irregularities. We still believe that we need a professional electoral administration, so we hope this experience will move us towards a professional republic electoral commission.”