Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic appeared headed toward a first-round victory in Serbia’s presidential election on Sunday, winning more than 50 percent of the vote among a field of 11 candidates, according to exit polls and early results. If the preliminary vote count holds and Mr. Vucic passes the 50 percent threshold, he would avoid a riskier two-way runoff on April 16. While Serbia is a parliamentary republic and the presidency is intended as a largely symbolic position, the actual effect of the election result is seen as removing the last check on Mr. Vucic’s power and as a further erosion of Serbia’s nascent democratic institutions. Mr. Vucic, by far the most popular political leader in the country, will choose his successor as prime minister, most likely a pliant one, and he is expected to exercise unchallenged control over all of the country’s main political institutions: Parliament, the executive branch, the ruling party and now the presidency.
With its coalition partners, his party has a strong and solid majority in Parliament, and the courts are weak and seen as politically controlled. The departing president, Tomislav Nikolic, had been one of the few checks on Mr. Vucic’s power.
With Mr. Vucic in the president’s office, Serbia is likely to follow the same domestic and foreign policy course as during his time as prime minister: enacting the political and economic changes required for membership in the European Union, while simultaneously seeking closer relations with Russia. Creating tensions with Brussels, Mr. Vucic has refused to support sanctions against Russia.
Declaring victory in Belgrade, the capital, Mr. Vucic said, “When you have results like this, it’s clear to everyone that there is no instability,” adding, “Serbia is strong, Serbia is powerful and it will be even stronger.”