BELGRADE, June 22 — Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic claimed a landslide victory for his ruling party yesterday in a parliamentary vote tarnished by a boycott from parts of the opposition, who accuse the leader of burgeoning authoritarianism.
With more than 63 per cent of the vote based on initial results, the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was in position to dramatically expand its already firm dominance in the 250-member parliament.
While Vucic did not run for parliament himself, the 50-year-old president tightly controls the party which has been in power since 2012.
“I am grateful to the people for this historic support,” the president said in an elated victory speech from the SNS headquarters.
“We won everywhere,” he added. “We won in the places where we had never won before.”
The sweeping success was helped by a boycott from the country’s main opposition camp, who decried the elections as neither free nor fair under Vucic’s domineering reign.
But despite their stay-at-home campaign and lingering concerns about the coronavirus, turnout appeared lower than normal — but not dramatically — at around 50 per cent.
The boycotting opposition nevertheless slammed the elections “fake” and claimed their movement was victorious.
More than a dozen other small opposition parties had decided to run in the poll, but only a few appeared in position to cross the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.
In second place with some 10 per cent was the SNS’s traditional junior coalition partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), according to the IPSOS polling agency.
The win is a boost for Vucic, who has been on an eight-year effort to consolidate control over the Serbia’s democracy, first as prime minister and now as president.
He came into the poll riding a fresh wave of popularity for keeping Serbia’s coronavirus situation under control, with around 260 deaths in a country of seven million.
Although the post of president is meant to be ceremonial, he remains Serbia’s top decision-maker and led the country through the health crisis.
According to analyst Dusan Spasojevic, Vucic’s increasingly “authoritarian” grip over the media and state institutions means “Serbia does not meet minimal conditions for elective democracy.”
“I use the term competitive autocracy — when there is a competition but participants are not equal,” he said.
Watchdogs say Vucic’s power lies in his manipulation of the media, with several outlets effectively serving as SNS propaganda machines.
The US-based Freedom House recently branded the country a “hybrid regime” instead of a democracy because of Vucic’s strongman tactics.
Time for Kosovo talks
But the Serb leader can count on support from key allies on the international stage.
In addition to close ties with Russia and China, he has backing from the West, where he is seen as capable of resolving Serbia’s decades-long territorial dispute with former province Kosovo.
With elections done, the president will face pressure to make progress on talks with Pristina that have been frozen for over a year.
He already has a busy schedule lined up: over the next week he will talk with the European Union’s envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, visit Moscow and meet with Kosovo representatives at the White House.
At the heart of the dispute is Belgrade’s rejection of the independence that Kosovo, home to an ethnic Albanian majority, declared after a bloody 1990s war that was halted by a Nato intervention. — AFP