yYAXssKCQaUWZcXZ79RJTBLvo-c;SfREtjZ9NYeQnnVMC-CsZ9qN6L0 Finance, Economics, Globus, Brokers, Banks, Collateral-Oriano Mattei: Serbian voters are casting ballots in a presidential election that is likely to consolidate the power of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as the country tries to balance its European goals with its relationship with Russia. Turnout was around 41 percent, according to the IPSOS polling agency. The website of the newspaper Blic quoted election observers as saying no significant irregularities in voting had been reported......

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domenica 2 aprile 2017

Serbian voters are casting ballots in a presidential election that is likely to consolidate the power of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as the country tries to balance its European goals with its relationship with Russia. Turnout was around 41 percent, according to the IPSOS polling agency. The website of the newspaper Blic quoted election observers as saying no significant irregularities in voting had been reported......

Serbian voters are casting ballots in a presidential election that is likely to consolidate the power of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as the country tries to balance its European goals with its relationship with Russia.
Turnout was around 41 percent, according to the IPSOS polling agency. The website of the newspaper Blic quoted election observers as saying no significant irregularities in voting had been reported.
Victory would allow the 46-year-old leader of the center-right Progressive Party to avoid a second round on balloting on April 16, which could prove tricky as it would give the fractious opposition a chance to regroup.
That would allow the 46-year-old leader of the center-right Progressive Party to avoid a second round on balloting on April 16, which could prove tricky as it would give the fractious opposition a chance to regroup.
"I am hoping these elections will facilitate stability and the continuation of economic reforms," Vucic said after voting.
WATCH: Voters Go To The Polls
While the result looking like a foregone conclusion, what’s less clear is the direction the country of 7.3 million will head as it stands at the crossroads between the European Union and Russia.
Belgrade's relations also remain tense with other capitals in the war-torn region of the former Yugoslavia, and it continues to dispute the legitimacy of a nearly decade-old declaration of independence by its former territory, Kosovo.
ALSO READ: Vucic's Bid To Cement Power In Serbia Raises Concerns Ahead Of Presidential Vote
"[Vucic] is capable of establishing relationships with people around the world, and he is able to protect Serbia from attacks -- first and foremost, attacks from our neighbors," says Slavica Djokic, a Belgrade pensioner who plans on voting for the prime minister.
A former ultranationalist who broke away from Radicals in 2008 to establish the more moderate Progressive Party, Vucic has pledged his commitment to Serbia’s goal of membership in the EU by 2019.
At the same time, Vucic, an information minister under Yugoslavia's late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, has brought Serbia closer to Russia with increased talk of military and economic cooperation.
"We are doing all we can," Vucic said on March 27 in a broadcast on privately held TV Pink in reference to defending Serbia’s interests, both east and west. "We are cooperating with the EU, with Russia, with China, with everyone where we have our own interests and everyone knows that we are a reliable partner."
The integration of the Western Balkans is a key policy goal of the EU and United States, who say they hope to stabilize a region ravaged by war and economic turmoil and riddled with political corruption.
But many Serbs are disillusioned with the country's politicians as they struggle to shake off a legacy of political corruption that has taken root since it emerged following the 1990s conflicts that broke apart Yugoslavia.
Vucic prepares his ballot at a polling station in Belgrade on April 2.
Vucic prepares his ballot at a polling station in Belgrade on April 2.
Reforms aimed at modernizing the economy and bringing Serbia into the EU have hit many workers hard, exacerbating the backlash. Longtime ally Russia, meanwhile, opposes the integration of Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, into the NATO security alliance, and the EU and is trying to extend its influence in the region.
With tensions simmering between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, an ethnically charged political stalemate in Macedonia, and accusations of Russian interference in Montenegro’s move toward NATO and the EU, concerns have grown over Serbia’s direction and how it could reignite the Balkan powder keg.
"Vucic benefits from his populist rhetoric and an image of a strong-handed leader able to successfully maneuver Serbia’s interests between Russia and the West," according to Andrius Tursa, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence.
Just days before the vote, U.S. President Donald Trump told Vucic in a letter that EU membership "will help ensure a more prosperous and secure future for your country and the Western Balkans."

"Serbia's efforts to fully normalize relations with Kosovo also stand as further testament to how shared aspirations of peace can overcome even the most difficult challenges," the letter, made public by the Serbian government, said.
None of the opposition candidates -- including ex-Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, and former Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic -- is likely to present a major challenge to Vucic.
Luka Maksimovic is a satirist running as Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli, whose only platform is to mock the Balkan nation’s political establishment.
Luka Maksimovic is a satirist running as Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli, whose only platform is to mock the Balkan nation’s political establishment.
"We want above all to give back dignity to Serbian citizens and meaning to state institutions," Jankovic, who was polling a distant second or third before the vote, said after casting his ballot.
A March 27 opinion poll by Ipsos Strategic Marketing and published in the Serbian newspaper Blic put Vucic at 53 percent -- well ahead of Luka Maksimovic, a satirist running as Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli, second with just 11 percent. If the polls hold true, Vucic would post an outright win and avoid a second-round runoff on April 16 against the second-place finisher.
A March 29 poll by Demostat gave Vucic 56 percent to second-placed Beli’s 9.5 percent.

Victory would give Vucic and his Progressive Party, which has a majority in parliament, control over the entire legislative and governing process, and some observers and voters are concerned that could push the Balkan nation back into the autocracy that Milosevic symbolized during his decade in power.
"He took all of the power for himself. All the levels of the power are in his hands. Through the Progressive Party, Vucic has taken over everything. Local power is controlled by him, and the government, and parliament," says Radenko Obradovic of Belgrade.

Jeremic, who accused Vucic of running a dirty-tricks campaign after the ruling party, issued a statement on March 20 saying Jeremic was surrounded by "the biggest criminal gang in Serbia" and has urged his supporters to turn out in high numbers in hopes of forcing a second round.
The government is "afraid" of a second round because it would be more difficult to influence the results in a round that would be more of a trial of Vucic by the "court of the people," Jeremic charged at a rally on March 29.

Vucic has apologized for his party’s statement.
With contributions from RFE/RL's Balkan Service and Reuters

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