Serbs voted in an election yesterday that could give a clear parliamentary majority to a centre-right party that has vowed to overhaul the nation’s struggling economy and push for membership in the European Union.
If the ruling Progressive Party wins the most seats in Serbia’s 250-member parliament, as polls predict, it is expected to choose leader Aleksandar Vucic – a former hard-line, pro-Russian nationalist who has become a pro-EU advocate – as prime minister.
He has pledged to vigorously fight against corruption and crime, and revive the economy in the troubled Balkan nation of about seven million people.
“We need a landslide victory to create new jobs, firmly pursue reforms and fight corruption with full forces,” Mr Vucic said last week.
The polls predict the Socialists, whose leader Ivica Dacic is the prime minister in the outgoing coalition government, would finish runner-up.
Turnout was about 41 per cent three hours before the polling stations were closing last night, slightly less than during the 2012 parliamentary election that brought the Progressives, former allies of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, back to power in Serbia.
The vote comes as Serbia, a longtime international pariah for fomenting wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, is officially seeking entry into the EU, amid deep economic problems and simmering social discontent.
Serbia this year opened membership talks with the EU after signing a deal normalizing ties with Kosovo, a former province which split in 2008, but whose independence Serbia’s refuses to recognise.
Mr Vucic says he needs a strong mandate to carry out painful reforms needed to help Serbia’s economy, which has been ravaged by mismanagement, wars and international sanctions.
“I expect that after the election the fight for jobs and the fight against the corruption will become basic issues that the new government will deal with,” he said after casting his ballot yesterday.
The opposition has accused him of seeking to introduce a Russian-type, hard-line leadership in Serbia by assuming dominant powers in the state, which is deeply split between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiment.
Borko Stefanovic, the Democratic Party’s parliamentary leader, said: “The whole country is mesmerised 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.”
Unemployment in Serbia officially stands at about 20 per cent, but experts say it is much higher. Serbia has been told by international creditors that to move forward it must cut jobs in the public sector and privatise state-owned, loss-making companies.
As Ninoslav Krstic of Belgrade turned up at a polling station to vote yesterday, he said: “I hope we will live much better and that there will be more jobs.”
The main pro-Western opposition party, the centre-left Democratic Party, was expected to win about 13 per cent of the votes. The party split up ahead of the election after former president Boris Tadic formed his own New Democratic Party.