Serbia’s Ruling Party Wins Belgrade City Council Election Amid Controversy and Clashes

Serbia’s ruling party, led by President Aleksandar Vučić, secured a significant victory in the Belgrade city council elections and partial local elections held across the country on Sunday. The election day was marred by confrontations between opposition supporters and activists from Vučić’s populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

According to an unofficial vote count by the pollster CESID, the SNS-led alliance garnered 52.9% of the votes in the capital city. The centre-right movement Kreni-Promeni (Move-Change), spearheaded by lawyer Savo Manojlović, came second with 17.2%, while the leftist green party Biram Beograd (I Choose Beograd) secured third place with 12.5%.

The rerun in Belgrade followed months of protests triggered by the December 17 parliamentary and partial local elections. These elections were criticized by opposition groups and international observers for irregularities, including allegations of media bias and vote-buying.

Belgrade, home to around 20% of Serbia’s 6.7 million population, holds significant political weight, with the mayoral position being the fourth most important office in the country after the president, prime minister, and parliament speaker. Partial local elections also took place in 88 out of Serbia’s 145 municipalities.

The election day witnessed clashes between opposition supporters and SNS activists in both Belgrade and the northern city of Novi Sad. Despite these tensions, President Vučić declared a resounding victory for his party, asserting that they would secure a majority in the 110-seat Belgrade city hall. “This is an incredible victory,” Vučić proclaimed.

However, opposition leader Savo Manojlović of Kreni-Promeni rejected the election results, labeling them as highly irregular. “These were the most irregular elections ever,” he told his supporters.

Critics, including Serbia’s opposition and human rights watchdogs, accuse Vučić and the SNS of suppressing media freedoms, engaging in violence against opponents, corruption, and maintaining ties with organized crime. Vučić and his allies have consistently denied these allegations.

As a candidate for European Union membership, Serbia faces considerable pressure to implement reforms in rule of law and media freedom, combat corruption, and address organized crime. Additionally, Serbia must work towards normalizing relations with Kosovo and aligning its foreign policies with the EU, including the imposition of sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

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