Populists Seek 'Convincing' Win to Cement Rule in Serbia

Observers report election irregularities, including violence and payoffs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 17, 2023 2:15 PM CST
Populists Seek 'Convincing' Win to Cement Rule in Serbia
Dragan Djilas, center, Serbia's main opposition coalition leader, talks to members of the media on Sunday after casting his ballots for the early local and parliamentary elections in Belgrade.   (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

President Aleksandar Vucic is looking to further tighten his grip on power in Serbia in an election on Sunday that has been marred by reports of major irregularities both during a tense campaign and on voting day. The main contest in the parliamentary and local elections was expected to be between Vucic's governing Serbian Progressive Party and a centrist coalition that is trying to undermine the populists who have ruled the troubled Balkan state since 2012, the AP reports. The Serbia Against Violence opposition coalition group of parties was expected to mount the biggest challenge for the city council in Belgrade. An opposition victory in the capital would seriously dent Vucic's hardline rule in the country, analysts say.

"Changes in Serbia have started and there is no force that can stop that," said Dragan Djilas, the opposition coalition leader, after he voted in Belgrade. "We, as the strongest opposition list, will defend people's will by all democratic means." Vucic said that he expects "a convincing victory" and that his ruling party "will be close to an absolute majority" in the parliamentary election. The election doesn't include the presidency, but governing authorities backed by dominant pro-government media have run the campaign as a referendum on Vucic. "This is a very important precondition for Serbia to continue on the path of prosperity and success," he said after casting his ballot. Turnout was running around 55%, about the same during the last election in 2022 when Vucic scored a sweeping victory.

Irregularities were reported by election monitors and independent media on Sunday, including Serbs from neighboring Bosnia gathering for vote at a sports hall in Belgrade that isn't an official polling station and a monitoring team being attacked and its car being bashed with baseball bats in a town in northern Serbia. Observers from the independent Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability expressed "the highest concern" over cases of the organized transfer of illegal voters on Sunday from other countries to Belgrade, the group said in a statement. The observers also reported cases of voters being given money to vote for the ruling party, per the AP, as well as the presence of unauthorized people at polling stations.

(More Serbia stories.)

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