Serbia’s Vucic pledges stability as he seeks re-election | The mighty 790 KFGO
By Ivana Sekularac
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is running for re-election on Sunday on promises of peace and stability as the country faces pressure from the West to balance traditional ties with Russia and its bid to join the European Union decide.
The election is for both president and parliament, and opinion polls show Vucic is likely to win another five-year term, while his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is also likely to win a majority, although likely short of their current 188 will have seats in Parliament with 250 seats.
Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which began days after Serbia’s election date was set, had a profound impact on electoral campaigning in Serbia, which was scarred by the Balkan wars two decades ago and where a majority of the people support military neutrality.
Bojan Klacar, head of polling firm CeSID, said the war in Ukraine has forced a departure from the campaign’s main themes, including corruption, the environment and the rule of law.
“Voters are now looking for answers to their concerns about economic stability, living standards and political stability,” he said.
“It seems that the ruling party has been more adept at aligning its campaign to people’s concerns.”
A poll by pollster Factor Plus, published in daily Blic on Wednesday, showed the ruling SNS won 53.6% of the vote. It brought a multi-opposition party grouping called Allianz for Victory into second place with 13.7% of the vote, and Vucic’s coalition partner the Socialists in third place with 10.2%.
A group of ecological movements formed less than a year ago would win 4.7% of the vote, the poll showed.
According to polls on Sunday, Vucic himself will win re-election in the first round. Zdravko Ponos, general and former army chief of staff, is considered second.
A longtime politician who was information minister under former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 1998, Vucic was, until 2008, a virulent anti-Western supporter of the Greater Serbia ideology that fueled the 1990s wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
When his SNS split from the Serbian Radical Party, he converted to the cause of EU membership and now advocates military neutrality and relations with Western countries as well as Russia and China.
Since 2012, when his party came to power, Vucic has held multiple posts: defense minister, prime minister and – since 2017 – president.
Ponos has accused Vucic of using the war in Ukraine in his campaign to try to build national unity based on “people’s fear of the war in Ukraine”.
“I would never allow the war in Ukraine to be abused if I were president,” Ponos told N1 TV.
Vucic’s critics say his popularity stems from his autocratic style of rule, which includes tight control of the media and benefits such as employment in state-owned companies that they say are reserved for his supporters.
Vucic has denied those allegations, claiming opposition leaders control two privately owned TV stations, a claim they deny.
“We have lived through many wars and with him (Aleksandar Vucic) at least we have peace and stability,” Radmila, a 52-year-old housewife from Subotica, told Reuters.
Opposition parties speak of election fraud and accuse the governing party of having falsified voter lists. The ruling party denies this and accuses the opposition of doing the same.
“Voter mobilization will be crucial to the performance of opposition parties, but the poor weather forecast for Election Day could dampen turnout,” consulting firm Teneo said in its report.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Frances Kerry)