Polls close after Serbians vote in Europe’s first post-lockdown election

A voter wearing a face mask casts a ballot during a national election, the first in Europe since coronavirus lockdowns began, at a polling station in Belgrade, Serbia on June 21, 2020.
A voter wearing a face mask casts a ballot during a national election, the first in Europe since coronavirus lockdowns began, at a polling station in Belgrade, Serbia on June 21, 2020. © Marko Djurica, Reuters

Polls closed after Serbians voted Sunday to elect a new parliament in Europe's first national election since coronavirus lockdowns took effect three months ago, with the ruling conservatives expected to win a comfortable majority.

Advertising

Polling stations were equipped with face masks and hand sanitisers for use by the country's electorate of almost 6.6 million, many of whom were expected to skip voting – partly because of fears of infection.

At 2pm local time (1200 GMT), turnout was 26.5 percent compared with 29.7 percent at the same stage of voting four years ago, figures released by the state election commission showed.

Turnout could have been affected by a boycott by some opposition parties, who said the vote would not be free or fair owing to President Aleksandar Vucic's grip over the media.

Voters largely approved of efforts by Vucic's ruling coalition to push for Serbian membership of the European Union while maintaining strong ties with Russia and China.

But the future government will face increasing EU and US pressure to recognise the independence of Serbia's former province of Kosovo, a move seen as key for regional stability.

"I hope for a good result. I expect success," Vucic said after casting his ballot. "I expect a good turnout."

According to the latest opinion polls, Vucic's conservative Serbian Peoples' Party (SNS) was set to win about 50 percent of the vote, boosted by widespread approval over the government's handling of the pandemic.

Vucic's coalition partner, the Socialist Party, was expected to come in second with about 10 percent.

The opposition centre-right Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) led by Aleksandar Sapic, the mayor of Novi Beograd, Belgrade's most populous municipality, was tipped to come in third.

'I am for the things to stay as they were'

Mladjan Knezevic, a pensioner from Novi Beograd, said he voted for the status quo: "I am for things to stay as they were."

Vucic himself is not up for re-election, but the opposition parties boycotting the vote accused him of using his position as president to promote his party.

Serbia, which has a population of 7.2 million, has reported 12,894 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 261 deaths. It was among the first European countries to start opening its borders on May 22 and all lockdown curbs have since been lifted.

Analysts and pollsters said that health concerns would keep some voters at home, especially among higher-risk groups. About 1.2 million people on the electoral list have lived abroad for years and were unlikely to vote.

At a polling station in a school in Belgrade's Zemun municipality, voters and election officials in face masks said they were working briskly to minimise exposure to the virus.

"Yes, I am concerned about the coronavirus but had to vote ... I want to see SPAS in parliament," Milica, a 26-year-old social worker, said through a blue surgical mask.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning