Serbia votes in double-header elections

Serbia votes in double-header elections

BELGRADE (AFP): Serbians headed to the polls Sunday in elections that will likely see populist President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling party extend its rule, as the strongman promised stability and vowed to curb inflation after months of protests.

Even though Vucic will not be on the ballot in Sunday’s parliamentary and local elections, the contest will nevertheless be largely seen as a referendum on his government.

Vucic’s right-wing populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has a double-digit lead over the leading opposition coalition, according to a latest poll by Ipsos.

But the SNS faces hard-fought municipal races in the capital Belgrade, particularly from the loose coalition of opposition parties and candidates running under the “Serbia Against Violence” banner.

The movement was formed in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings earlier this year that spurred hundreds of thousands to take to the streets.

The rallies quickly morphed into anti-government protests that lasted months.

Vucic has repeatedly dismissed his critics and the protests as a foreign plot, warning that Serbia would be directionless without his leadership.

“It’s not about me leaving power, but about them destroying everything,” he told supporters at a recent rally.

“It would take us 20 years to fix everything… That’s why we’ll beat them more convincingly than ever.”

Vucic was omnipresent in the run-up to the vote — plastered on billboards and skyscrapers and the focus of wall-to-wall coverage on news channels.

As polls opened at 7:00 AM local time (0600 GMT), lines had already formed in the capital Belgrade as people waited to cast their ballot.

“I came early to support our president, he must continue his work,” said Stojan Milenkovic, a 67-year-old retired resident.

However others were hoping that the contest would bring a fresh change to the country’s political scene.

“I hope the results will put an end to the devastation of our capital,” Milica Pavkov, a 28-year-old cashier, told AFP.
Muzzled media

Like many countries across the globe, Serbia has been battered by double-digit inflation.

To blunt the hard edges of rising prices ahead of the polls, Vucic unleashed a barrage of state spending — increasing pensions and handing out cash to the elderly.

The president has also vowed to double average monthly salaries in the coming years, while also upping pensions.

Vucic has used his more than a decade in power to consolidate control over the levers of power, including de facto control over the media.

The president called the snap elections in November, the latest example of how governments under his rule rarely serve out their term — a move critics say is designed to keep the opposition off balance.

The contest comes less than two years after the last round of presidential and parliamentary polls, which saw Vucic and the SNS tighten their grip on power.

Polling stations are set to close at 1900 GMT, with unofficial results due later in the evening.