Exit polls predict a landslide victory for the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in the parliamentary elections of Sunday 16 March. Winning almost half of all votes, the SNS will gain an overall majority in the Serbian parliament. SNS leader, Alexander Vucic, is widely believed to become Serbia’s new prime minister. The turnout was 50.3 percent, 3.3 percent less than the last elections in 2012.
According to preliminary results by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSID, the Serbian Progressive Party has landed about 48.8 percent of the votes. This landslide victory translates into around 157 seats in the 250-seat parliament, an absolute majority. The CeSID further predicts the Socialists led coalition to win 14 percent of the votes, the Democrats Party 5.9 percent and the New Democratic Party 5.7 percent. Making these four parties the only parties to make the 5 percent threshold.
In his victory speech, Alexander Vucic said: "I am sure that Serbia will continue its European path, its struggle against corruption, but this government will be mainly dealing with the problem of unemployment and by the middle of our mandate I am certain you will see the results". He added: “Serbia has a future in which its children will live much better than they do today”.
The party's success seems driven by its anti-corruption campaign and its move towards EU membership. Serbia’s new government will have plenty to do though; unemployment is high and the association talks are predicted to be long and arduous. Vucic expects a new government to start in May.
Simultaneously, local elections were held in Belgrade, Arandjelovac, Bor, Negotin and Pecinci. Preliminary results, released by the City Election Commission in Belgrade, show the Serbian Progressive Party has won the local elections to. In the Serbian capital Belgrade, the SNS won 44.2 percent of the vote, landing them 61 seats in the 110-seat city assembly. The new major will be elected by the new assembly.
In Kosovo, voter turnout for the Serbian parliamentary elections was about 34.4 percent, the Organization for Security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says. OSCE spokesperson, Nikola Gaon, said that voting passed off without incident. Kosovo used to be a keynote issue in Serbian politics but became independent in 2012.
The Democratic Party
The Democratic Party (DS) of opposition leader Dragan Djilas is predicted to have won 5.9 percent of the votes, landing the DS 19 seats in parliament. Djilas already announced DS would hold a party congress to elect new leadership if the elections results were disappointing. During the campaign, DS tried to warn against the focus of Serbian power in the hands of one man and focuses on European values as democracy and the rule of law.
DS did not manage to position itself as the main opposition party due to internal division. Since Dragan Djilas took over the party form Boris Tadic, relations between the two deteriorated. Eventually, Tadic decided to leave the Democratic Party and run with his own party, the New Democratic Party. De New Democratic Party gained 5.7 percent of the votes, enough for 18 parliamentary seats. Because of the split between Djilas and Tadic, the opposition to SNS was divided.
Alexander Vucic, the leader of the SNS, is widely believed to become Serbia’s next prime minister. In his twenties, Alexander Vucic served as information minister in the government of the ultranationalist prime minister Slobodan Milosevic, and supported the war against Kosovo. The former hard-line, pro-Russian Vucic has now become an advocate for closer ties with the European Union. He says he made mistakes, but learned from them: "I'm not ashamed to change my bad habits and characteristics. On the contrary, I am proud".
The opposition fears that Vucic becomes too powerful. Borko Srefanovic, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Party, says: "The whole country is mesmerized by this super-guy, Mr Vucic, who controls all the media and decides on everything. What we are facing now is a one-man regime".
The outgoing government, in which Vucic was deputy prime minister, started membership talks with the EU in January. Serbia has been an international pariah since the War in the Balkans in the 1990’s and has been seeking closer ties with the EU for years. Serbia refused to recognize the independence of Kosovo, but had to normalize relations before starting talks with the EU.
The Serbian Progressive Party supports EU talks and wants Serbia to join the European Union. Serbia is a cultural and linguistic hub in the region, EU accession could secure much needed foreign investments. However, accession talks will probably last until after 2020.
Sources: B92 I, B92 II, Balkan Insight I, Balkan Insight II, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters.
Author Koen Migchelbrink