Election monitor slams Serbian polls after ruling party hails win

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A team of international observers on Monday slammed Serbian elections over a string of “irregularities”, including “vote buying” and “ballot box stuffing”, after the opposition accused the ruling party of committing voter fraud.

The accusations aired by the monitors, which included representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), came just hours after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his party had secured a commanding victory during parliamentary and local elections.

“Election day was smooth but marred by isolated instances of violence, procedural irregularities and frequent allegations of organising and busing of voters to support the ruling party in local elections,” the International Election Observation Mission said in a statement.

“Further instances of serious irregularities, including vote-buying and ballot box stuffing were observed,” it added.

Vucic and his ruling right wing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) looked poised to tighten their grip on power after claiming to have captured 127 out of the 250 seats in parliament late Sunday.

However, opposition groups have cast doubts over the validity of the contest following accusations that the government allowed unregistered voters from neighbouring Bosnia to cast ballots illegally in the capital Belgrade during the election.

The opposition camp has called for demonstrations in Belgrade Monday night to protest the results.

The government has dismissed the claims, with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic saying the allegations were designed to spread chaos.

– ‘Absolute majority’ –

Even though Vucic was not personally on the ballot during the parliamentary and local elections over the weekend, the contest was largely seen as a referendum on his government.

“My job was to do everything in my power to secure an absolute majority in the parliament,” Vucic told reporters as he celebrated what he said was the SNS’s victory late Sunday.

To his supporters, Vucic’s decade in power has brought stability and billions in investments to the once chaotic country ravaged by a string of wars in the former Yugoslavia and bouts of hyperinflation in the 1990s.

“I want Serbia to continue on the same path. It seems that this path is the most reasonable for the greatest number of people, whether rich or poor,” Svetlana Nikolic, a 70-year-old Vucic supporter in Belgrade, told AFP.

But Vucic’s opponents have long accused the president and the SNS of overseeing a government defined by autocracy and corruption during their decade in power.

Vucic has been particularly deft at balancing ties between east and west, vowing to keep Serbia on a course for European Union membership — while also remaining friendly with Russia and courting China and Washington.

On Monday, Moscow congratulated Vucic and the SNS on their victory, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying he hoped the win would lead to the “further strengthening of friendship” between the countries.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also praised Vucic, calling the win an “overwhelming election victory”.

The SNS also said it secured a win in municipal elections in the capital Belgrade, where the party faced their stiffest challenge from a loose coalition of opposition parties and candidates running under the Serbia Against Violence banner.

That movement was formed in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings earlier this year. They spurred hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in rallies that morphed into anti-government protests over several months.

The movement vowed to take to the streets again, calling for supporters to rally on Monday night against what the group called “electoral theft” during the local elections in the capital.

The coalition alleged that over 40,000 people voted in Belgrade who were not formally registered as residents, arguing that the government allowed unregistered voters from neighbouring Bosnia to cast ballots illegally in the election.

Sunday’s vote came weeks after Vucic called for snap elections in November, the latest example of how governments under his rule rarely serve out their term — a move critics say is designed to keep the opposition off balance.

The contest comes less than two years after the last round of presidential and parliamentary voting, which saw Vucic and the SNS tighten their grip on power.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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