Serbians vote in snap election, ruling party set to secure another term By Reuters

Serbians vote in snap election, ruling party set to secure another term By Reuters

© Reuters. People stand next to a pre-election billboard of the opposition coalition ‘Serbia Against Violence’ in Belgrade, Serbia, December 14, 2023. REUTERS/Zorana Jevtic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbians will cast their votes on Sunday in a snap election seen as an effort by President Aleksandar Vucic and his populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) to secure another four-year term, after two mass shootings earlier this year rattled their popularity.

A total of 18 parties and alliances are vying for the support of the 6.5 million-strong electorate for 250 seats in the parliament. The threshold for entering the parliament is 3% of votes. Polls will open at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Two mass shootings in May, resulting in 18 deaths, including nine elementary school students, triggered street protests that shook Vucic and the SNS’s decade-long grip on power in the Western Balkan republic. The dissent was exacerbated by rising inflation, standing at 8% in November.

Opposition parties and rights watchdogs also accuse Vucic and the SNS of voter bribery, stifling media freedoms, violence against opponents, corruption, and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies deny these allegations.

The Dec. 17 parliamentary election, the fifth since 2012, coincides with local votes taking place in most municipalities, the capital Belgrade and the northern province of Vojvodina.

A recent pre-election opinion poll by the Nova Srpska Politicka Misao website placed the SNS in the lead with 39.8% of the vote, followed by the centre-left Serbia Against Violence alliance at 25.6% and the Socialist Party (SPS) of outgoing Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, a long-time SNS coalition partner, with 8.9%.

“A strong electoral performance by SNS would reinforce policy continuity,” Teneo Intelligence said in a note on Thursday.

“It might give more political space to pursue unpopular compromises on issues like lithium mining or negotiations with Kosovo, especially with no national-level elections scheduled until 2027.”

Serbia, a candidate to join the European Union, must first normalise relations with Kosovo, its former predominantly Albanian province that declared independence in 2008 after a late 1990s guerrilla uprising. EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina are stalled, and tensions remain high.

Serbia must also root out corruption and organised crime, liberalize the economy, and align its foreign policies with those of the EU, including introduction of sanctions against Russia — a traditional ally of Belgrade — due to its invasion of Ukraine.

First unofficial results by pollsters, based on a vote count in a nationwide sample of polling stations, are expected after 9 PM (2000 GMT). Exit polls are prohibited by law. The state election commission is expected to announce full results in the days after.

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