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Serbia's ruling populists claim 'pure and convincing' victory in municipal elections

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić speaks at his party's headquarters in Belgrade, June 2, 2024
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić speaks at his party's headquarters in Belgrade, June 2, 2024 Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP, EBU
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Skirmishes between police and opposition supporters were reported in some areas amid claims the SNS had set up illicit 'call centres' to rally supporters to vote for them. One opposition coalition leader slammed the vote as marked by "abuse of the media, fake news and hate speech".

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Serbia's ruling populists have declared victory at the polls in tense municipal elections in dozens of cities and towns, including a rerun vote in the capital Belgrade, as the opposition claimed major irregularities. 

The victory would cement the ruling right-wing party's vast hold on power in the country that is a candidate nation for European Union membership.

Prime minister and ruling Serbian Progressive Party chief Miloš Vučević told reporters that the party had swept the board, winning all but four municipalities.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić drinks champagne after claiming victory in local elections in Belgrade, June 2, 2024
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić drinks champagne after claiming victory in local elections in Belgrade, June 2, 2024Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

"From the north to the south, from Subotica to Nis, from Uzice to the east, everywhere where elections were held, our list 'Aleksandar Vučić - Serbia Tomorrow' is pure and convincing victory. I congratulate all citizens," he told reporters.

President Aleksandar Vučić, whom critics accuse of being increasingly authoritarian, said his party had won a majority in the Belgrade City Assembly, most likely claiming 63 out of 110 seats in the legislature.

"We will have to preserve our country, preserve peace, but also our freedom. On the other side, I would ask you to extend your hand to political opponents," he said.

But opposition politicians claim there were major irregularities at the polls.

Skirmishes were reported at a Novi Sad fair complex when opposition members tried to enter the hall packed with SNS activists and police moved in to stop them. The N1 regional television channel reported that ruling party activists later brought out boxes with unidentified content through a back exit.

Opposition officials also claimed that illicit 'call centres' had been set up in some locations to contact supporters and urge them to turn out and vote.

The existence of one such centre was reported on Sunday in a Belgrade sports hall while in a downtown area opposition activists tried to enter a restaurant where they said the ruling party activists were camped.

"Once again, we had the absolute dominance of Aleksandar Vučić and Serbian Progressive Party in the media. This campaign was marked by abuse of the media, fake news, hate speech, and in the context of the UN resolution on the genocide in Srebrenica, the participants in the local elections were labelled as traitors and foreign mercenaries," said Radomir Lazović, one of the leaders of the opposition 'I Choose to Fight' coalition.

But the ruling SNS party said their activists' activities were in accordance with the law.

The ruling populists were accused by the opposition and foreign observers in December of busing in voters from other areas in Serbia and from neighbouring Bosnia, claims they denied. Similar reports were published by the opposition supporters on social media on Sunday.

The populists have presented themselves as the only political force capable of running the country and keeping it safe at a time of global turmoil.

A voter casts her ballot for the local election at a polling station in Belgrade, June 2, 2024
A voter casts her ballot for the local election at a polling station in Belgrade, June 2, 2024Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

Vučić is formally seeking to have his troubled nation join the European Union but has steadily drifted away from pro-EU democracy values while nurturing close ties with Russia and China. The populists have presented themselves as the only political force capable of running the country and keeping it safe at a time of global turmoil.

Pro-Western opposition groups have accused Vučić of links to organised crime, rampant corruption and a crackdown on democracy. But a wide alliance that was behind big anti-government street protests last year has splintered and turned against each other, fuelling apathy among Serbia's 6.5 million voters.

Official results are expected to be released later on Monday.

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