BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — An early official count of Serbia’s national election on Monday confirmed the landslide victory of President Aleksandar Vucic and his populist party — important allies of Russia in the volatile Balkans and in Europe.
Vucic scored an outright victory in Sunday’s presidential vote with the backing of nearly 60% of the voters, while his Serbian Progressive Party gained 43% of ballots, according to a near-complete tally of the state election authorities.
The results mean that no runoff vote is needed in the presidential election and that Vucic’s party will be able to form the next Serbian government in a coalition with junior partners in the 250-member assembly.
The main opposition group, United for Serbia’s Victory, trailed the populists in the parliamentary election with some 13% of the votes. The group’s presidential candidate Zdravko Ponos gained 17%, the official results showed.
Despite being so far behind nationally, the opposition groups appeared to be in a tight race with the populists in the capital, Belgrade, where ballots are still being counted.
Both the opposition groups and independent observers have listed a series of irregularities and incidents, including violent ones. The ruling party has denied vote manipulation or pressuring voters.
Since the party came to power in 2012, Vucic has gradually clamped down on mainstream media and institutions, assuming complete control over the years. A former ultranationalist, Vucic has served as defense minister, prime minister and president.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday congratulated Vucic, saying that the outcome confirms a “broad public support” for his independent foreign policies. The Russian leader voiced hope that Vucic’s activities will help further strengthen the “strategic partnership” between Russia and Serbia.
Portraying himself as a guarantor of peace and stability amid the war in Ukraine, Vucic has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia despite formally seeking membership in the European Union for Serbia.
After declaring victory on Sunday evening, he said the new government will face tough decisions but will seek to maintain friendly relations with historically close Slavic ally Russia.
Most of the parties running in the election were right-leaning, reflecting the predominantly conservative sentiments among Serbia’s 6.5 million voters. For the first time, however, a green-left coalition made it into the parliament, reflecting rising public interest in neglected environmental problems in the Balkan country.
Turnout was nearly 60%, which is higher than recent votes.