Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic was on track for re-election on Sunday. His SNS party also appeared to have taken the largest portion of the votes, a performance likely to allow the populist conservative leader to consolidate his power in a second term.
Pollsters Ipsos and CESID predicted that Vucic would garner nearly 60 per cent of the votes amid a relatively high turnout, with the official result expected in the coming days. If confirmed, Vucic would avoid a runoff for a second election running.
“A huge thank you to the citizens of Serbia,” he said. “I’m endlessly proud and endlessly happy . . . I believe in a significant and convincing victory and I believe everyone will get what they deserve.”
Vucic, a former ultranationalist who rose to prominence as propaganda minister under former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, has campaigned on a message of stability amid the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally.
He has come under strong international pressure over his resistance to joining sanctions against Russia — one of the few European leaders to take such a stance.
Vucic is unlikely to change course dramatically given a significant proportion of his voters sympathise with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s campaign against Kyiv, and resent the west, which bombed Belgrade during the Yugoslav wars in 1999.
“Regarding Russia sanctions, a quick about-turn seems unlikely,” said Milos Damjanovic, an analyst at the BIRN consultancy in Belgrade. “Vucic will seek to play for time and avoid aligning with sanctions on Russia for as long as possible, hoping that the war in Ukraine ends or grinds to a halt.”
How far Vucic can take that policy will also depend on whether the EU and the US tolerate Belgrade’s non-alignment on sanctions, Damjanovic said, adding that western pressure would run up against Serbian public opinion and the country’s dependence on Russian energy.
Russian companies own the majority of Serbia’s energy sector, its largest gas storage facility, and control the country’s supply of gas via the new Turkish Stream pipeline. Serbia’s long-term gas supply agreement will have to be renegotiated by July.
Vucic will also benefit from the victory of his close ally, Hungarian premier Viktor Orban, who also won re-election on Sunday.
“Vucic will certainly be pleased with Orban’s victory, given that the Hungarian leader has been a strong backer of Vucic and Serbia within the EU,” Damjanovic said.
Before the Ukraine war superseded other issues, Serbians had protested against Vucic in a ballooning series of protests over inadequate environmental protections and a perceived leniency towards multinational companies, forcing Vucic into an about-face on one of the country’s largest investment projects, a lithium mine.