Serbia’s Prime Minister Vucic Wins Presidential Elections in First Round

Serbian President-elect Aleksandar Vucic adresses the media after declaring a victory in Belgrade, Serbia, 02 April 2017. Photo: Andrej Cukic/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

 


  • Serbia’s Prime Minister Vucic has been elected President in a landslide election victory.
  • Vucic has promised to continue his foreign policy of balancing between the West and Russia, while seeking Serbia’s accession to the European Union.
  • His victory comes amidst several political crises and international tensions across the Western Balkans.
  • Vucic’s political career first began in the late 1990s as Information Minister under Slobodan Milosevic but later he has described his actions back then as wrong.
  • Vucic has been criticized by his opponents for authoritarian tendencies.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who heads the conservative populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNP), has won the country’s 2017 Presidential Elections in the first round.

Vucic, who has been conducting a policy of balancing between the West and Russia, had been expected to win the Serbian Presidency but his victory in the first round had not been seen as guaranteed, and had even been taken as somewhat surprising.

47-year-old Vucic is a lawyer with a long political career which began in the mid-1990s.

While Serbia is a parliamentary republic, with the position of Prime Minister carrying more formal power, the post of the President wields a lot of informal influence.

Little Competition

Serbian Prime Minister and Serbian Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vucic declared his victory in the presidential elections held in Serbia on Sunday, April 2, Serbian media network B92 reported.

Serbia’s Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) announced on Monday that Vucic had won over 55% of the votes (based on a count of 90.86% of the cast votes), thus avoiding a runoff and winning the Presidency.

Vucic’s nearest rival was Serbia’s former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, 47, who ran as an independent supported by the main opposition parties. Jankovic received a little over 16% of the votes.

25-year-old student Luka Maksimovic, who ran a parady campaign under the character of a political fraudster named Ljubisa “Beli” Preletacevic, came in third with 9% of the votes.

Former Serbian Foreign Minister (2007-2012) Vuk Jeremic, 41, remained fourth with 5.3%, and far-right nationalist Vojislav Seselj came in fifth with 4.5% of the votes.

The turnout in Serbia’s 2017 Presidential Elections was 54.6% out of over 6.7 million eligible voters.

Serbia’s ‘Direction’

In a statement late on Sunday, Serbia’s Prime Minister and President-elect Vucic said that over two million voters had voted for him, and that he had received “12% more votes than all the other candidates combined.”

“I am very proud of the fact we received a huge number of votes in conditions that were anything but easy for us, this is an important day for us and it’s important to show the direction Serbia wants to go,“ Vucic said.

“This victory is clean as a whistle and nobody can interpret it (otherwise). I received 12% more than all the other candidates combined… add to this number those who are not directly opposed – a huge majority in Serbia is in favor of continuing the (reform) process, the European road, in favor of maintaining traditional friendships with Russia and China,” Vucic said.

During his speech, he also thanked outgoing Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, and announced that a new government will most likely be formed “in the next two months, and a couple of days.”

Serbian Prime Minister and now President-elect, Aleksandar Vucic (R), shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 27 March 2017, days before the Serbian presidential elections. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Western Balkans

Vucic’s election to the Serbian Presidency happens against the backdrop of what is viewed as a tense situation in the six countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia – all of which are expected to join the European Union at some point in the future but have stalled along the way.

The days before the Serbian presidential elections did not go unmarred by international incidents, after at the end of last week, buses with ethnic Serbs in Northern Kosovo were prevented by road barriers from attending a Vucic rally in the town of Leposavic.

Kosovo, which is over 90% ethnic Albanian-populated, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Nine years earlier, the then President of the rump state of Yugoslavia (consisting at the time of Serbia and Montenegro) Slobodan Milosevic initiated what has been seen by the West as an ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo following tensions with the Albanians.

This led to the 1999 Kosovo War, in which NATO bombed Yugoslavia for two months until the Milosevic regime yielded and pulled out of Kosovo, making way for a UN mission.

A large ethnic Serbian minority lives in an enclave in the northern part of Kosovo, in the region of Mitrovica, and has also participated in the Serbian presidential elections.

Serbia’s Republican Electoral Commission (RIK) designated 90 polling stations for a total of 105,929 registered Serbian voters in Kosovo.

Serbia’s does not recognize the independence of its former province Kosovo, which, however, is recognized by the US, most of the EU member states, and a majority of the UN member states.

Who Is Vucic?

Serbia’s new President-elect Aleksandar Vucic’s political career began in the mid-1990s, when he joined the nationalist Serbian Radical Party. His earliest post in the Serbian Cabinet was in 1998-2000 when he was the Minister of Information in the government of Mirko Marjanovic.

In that capacity, Vucic introduced fines against journalists who criticized Milosevic and banned foreign TV channels. Later in his career he admitted that his actions at the time had been wrong. He has also condemned war crimes committed by ethnic Serbian forces against Muslims during the Bosnia War in the early 1990s.

In the late 2000s, Vucic joined the newly formed Serbian Progressive Party of Tomislav Nikolic, who went on to become President of Serbia in 2012.

After the Serbian Progressive Party came to power with a coalition in 2012, Vucic served as Minister of Defense in 2012-2013 and First Deputy Prime Minister in 2012-2014.

Vucic became Prime Minister after an election win in 2014, and kept the job following another election victory in 2016.

Vucic’s opponents have accused him of authoritarian methods and taking control of the media in Serbia since his party came to power in 2012.

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