BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – The Serbian President called for a resumption of European Union-mediated talks on Kosovo on Monday after strengthening his hold over power at home in an overwhelming election victory for his ruling right-wing party.
A preliminary official count of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Serbia showed that President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party won about 61% of the vote, followed by his ally, the Socialists, by about 10%. Election officials said the turnout was 50.32%.
A partial boycott of the vote, by major opposition parties saying Vucic unfairly dominated the state media, paved the way for Vucic’s Progressives to control about 190 seats in the 250-member meeting. Vucic declared the party’s victory to be “historic.”
International observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in a statement that “elections were marked by intense political polarization amid boycotts by a significant part of the opposition.”
“The Serbian authorities organized the elections efficiently under difficult conditions, but voters remained insufficiently informed and frustrated by the opposition’s lack of access to the media,” said Urszula Gacek, head of ODIHR’s special election assessment mission. “The ruling party’s dominance jeopardizes the neutrality of the country’s democratic institutions, and dialogue is needed to bridge deep political divisions and protect pluralism.”
The autocratic Serbian president had called on supporters to vote in large numbers to give him a strong mandate for internationally mediated peace negotiations on the future of the former Kosovo province in Serbia. Serbia rejected Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008.
Vucic met the European Union envoy to Kosovo, Miroslav Lajcak, on Monday and pledged support for the EU-mediated effort to reach an agreement on the longstanding dispute. The President will travel alongside Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main ally, while a US-mediated Serbia-Kosovo meeting will be held in Washington on June 27.
“We expect to continue the dialogue as soon as possible, perhaps as early as July,” said Vucic.
Lajcak, a former Slovak foreign minister, congratulated Vucic on his party’s election victory and said the EU wants to help resolve all disputed issues between Serbia and Kosovo through a “comprehensive agreement”. Lajcak also said the dialogue will resume next month, but did not offer an immediate date.
One of the first to congratulate Vucic on Monday was a close populist ally, Prime Minister of neighboring Hungary, Viktor Orban, who said in a message that Serbia led by Vucic is ready, along with other Central European countries, “a winner of ten years ahead of us. “
“I am convinced that your successful governance has laid the foundation for Serbia to become a full member of the European Union by the end of the four-year parliamentary cycle,” said Orban.
Sunday’s vote in Serbia was the first national election in Europe since the coronavirus blockage began. The vote – initially scheduled for April but postponed due to the pandemic – was held as Serbia continues to report dozens of new cases every day.
Despite the partial boycott, some smaller parties still took part in the vote, but were unable to cross the 3% threshold to enter parliament. Full official results are expected on Thursday.
Some opposition leaders claimed that the vote was marred by voter irregularities and intimidation. An opposition mayor of the western city of Sabac said he would demand a re-vote, while one pro-boycott bloc insisted that the turnout be lower than officially stated.
“The boycott has been successful, the government has no legitimacy,” Dragan Djilas said in a statement.
A former extreme nationalist, Vucic was briefly Secretary of Information in the government of the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the bloody wars of the 1990s in the Balkans that killed over 100,000 people and expelled millions from their homes.
While Vucic now says he is seeking EU membership in Serbia, critics warn that democratic freedoms have been eroding since his party came to power in 2012.
Pablo Gorondi, Associate Press writer, contributed to this report from Budapest, Hungary.
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