Ruling populists look set to win Serbia vote amid pandemic

BELGRADE, SERBIA (AP) — Serbia’s ruling populists are set to tighten their hold on power in Parliamentary elections held amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in the Balkan country and a partial boycott by the opposition.

Nearly 6.6 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for the 250-member Parliament and local authorities. The election — initially planned for April but postponed because of the pandemic — comes as Serbia still reports dozens of new cases daily after completely relaxing its strict lockdown rules.

President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party appears set for a landslide victory, facing little challenge from the divided opposition.

Opponents said this is because Vucic has dominated the campaign on the mainstream media which he controls, clamping down on his critics. He has denied this.

Citing lack of free and fair conditions and danger to public health, several main opposition groups are boycotting the vote.

But a number of smaller parties have decided to run, saying the boycott would only sideline an already marginalised opposition.

Health authorities have provided face masks, gloves and sanitisers at the polling stations. Voters are advised to use them, but they’re not mandatory.

People attend a protest against President Aleksandar Vucic and his government in front of the Serbian Parliament building. PHOTO: AP