Opponents of Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic have claimed that dirty tricks marred a presidential election on Sunday that the populist leader was expected to win by a landslide.
Official results due to be released on Monday will confirm whether Mr Vucic secured the 50 per cent support required to obviate a run-off on April 16th, when he would face a stiffer challenge from a single opposition candidate.
Pre-election polls indicated that Mr Vucic (47) had a good chance of taking more than half the votes against rivals from across the political spectrum, several of whom complained of irregularities during the campaign and on election day.
Allegations came from the camps of several candidates, claiming that people had been pressured to vote for Mr Vucic, that misleading text messages had been sent to residents of some districts urging them not to vote, and that inaccurate electoral rolls created a serious risk of fraud.
Non-governmental organisations monitoring the vote noted some irregularities but suggested they were not serious enough to affect the result of the election, which looked set to cement Mr Vucic’s dominance.
Ceremonial role Mr Vucic served as information minister under warmongering 1990s Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, before rebranding himself as a conservative who wants his country to join the European Union.
He guided his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) to power in 2014 and easily won a snap election last year, and directly and through allies he already enjoys immense sway over his country’s political, business, security and media worlds.
Though the presidency is largely a ceremonial role in Serbia, analysts say that Mr Vucic could use the post to exert de facto control over his successor as prime minister, the government and the ruling party.
“He gives Serbia stability. He has proved he can lead – none of the others can say that,” said Velimir, a former teacher who voted in central Belgrade.
“I don’t think now is a time to take risks. Our neighbours are not very friendly, Europe is shaking, who knows what [US president Donald] Trump will do tomorrow? We need a solid leader, a strong guy to run Serbia.”
EU membership Mr Vucic says he wants his country to join the EU while strengthening economic and military ties with Moscow; a recent deal to acquire Russian fighter jets and tanks has unnerved Serbia's neighbours.
"He wants to be like [Russian president] Vladimir Putin, " said Marija, a student who voted for former civil rights ombudsman Sasa Jankovic.
“But Serbia is part of Europe, not the Russian empire.”
Mr Jankovic was forecast to take about 10 per cent of votes, as were ex-foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj and Luka Maksimovic, a comedy candidate who parodies Serbia's populist politicians.