BELGRADE, April 3 (Reuters) – Serbia’s incumbent President Aleksandar Vucic is set to win the presidential vote on Sunday with 59.8% of the votes, according to a projection by pollsters Ipsos and CeSID, based on a sample of the partial polling station count.
Zdravko Ponos, a retired army general representing the pro-European and centrist Alliance for Victory coalition, is set to come second with 17.1% of the votes.
In the parliamentary vote Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is set to come first with 43.6% of votes, Ipsos and CeSID projections showed.
The United for Victory opposition alliance trailed behind with 12.9% of the votes.
The Socialist Party of Serbia, a long-time ally of the SNS, is seen third with 11.6% of the votes. The Nada (Hope) rightist coalition and Moramo (We Must), an alliance of green movements and parties, garnered around 5.4% and 4.3% of votes respectively.
As the SNS would likely fail to secure enough of the 250-seat parliament to rule alone, it will have to seek coalition partners.
According to the State Election Commission preliminary data, turnout stood at 58.54%.
Vucic ran for a second five-year term on a promise of peace and stability just as Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, which has put Serbia under pressure from the West to choose between its traditional ties with Moscow and aspirations to join the European Union (EU).
Vucic acknowledged conflict in Ukraine impacted the campaign and said Serbia has no plans to deviate from its balancing game between the EU membership bid and close ties with Russia and China, a major investor.
“We will maintain policy that is important for the Europeans, Russians and Americans, and that is … military neutrality.”
“Serbia will try to preserve friendly and partnership relations in many areas with the Russian Federation,” Vucic said.
Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, while its army maintains ties with Russia’s military.
The Kremlin also supports Belgrade’s opposition to the independence of Kosovo by blocking its membership to the United Nations.
Although Serbia backed two United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it refused to impose sanctions against Moscow.
CeSID and CRTA pollsters reported several irregularities, including photographing of ballots.
The opposition largely boycotted a parliamentary election in 2020, allowing Vucic’s SNS party and its allies to secure 188 seats in the 250-seat parliament.
A veteran politician who served as information minister in 1998 under former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Vucic has transformed himself from a nationalist firebrand to a proponent of EU membership, military neutrality and ties with Russia and China.
Ponos has accused Vucic of using the war in Ukraine in his campaign to capitalise on people’s fears.
Opposition and rights watchdogs also accuse Vucic and his allies of an autocratic style of rule, corruption, nepotism, controlling the media, attacks on political opponents and ties with organised crime. Vucic and his allies have repeatedly denied all those allegations.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Diane Craft and Chizu Nomiyama)