Following Aleksandar Vucic’s victory in the presidential election, thousands of Serbs have taken to the streets of Belgrade and other major Serbian cities in protest. Vucic, who is currently serving as prime minister, claimed victory in the first round of the election on April 2 by securing 55 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off election. Vucic’s opponents fear that his role in the government has become increasingly autocratic.
Vucic will take over the largely ceremonial role of president in May, but he is expected to retain real power through his control of the ruling Progressive Party in Serbia. Vucic views his large margin of victory as a sign that many Serbs favor the path the government has chosen. His closest competitor, Sasa Jankovic, won just over 16 percent of the vote. Vucic told cheering supporters, “For me it is important this election demonstrated that a large majority of Serbian citizens favors the continuation of the European path while maintaining close ties with China and Russia.”
Serbia is caught between between the pursuit of a closer union with the West and the European Union, and its cultural ties to Russia as an Orthodox and Slavic nation. Vucic met with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign and thanked them both for their support.
For the opposition, the large margin of defeat serves as a humiliating blow. They claim Vucic has an authoritarian history from the former Yugoslavia days – he is infamous for backing legislation that muzzled criticism of the government during the conflict with Kosovo in 1998-99.
The protests, named “The Protest Against Dictatorship,” have remained largely peaceful. Protesters gathered in Belgrade and shouted “no to dictatorship” while blowing whistles to accompany their cries. The protesters have not expressed explicit demands, although one student simply stated, “What we want is Vucic to step down, he is an autocrat and we do not want him.”
Serbia remains hindered by poverty and corruption despite greater economic and fiscal stability. One Vucic supporter spoke out saying, “I voted for stability, we’ve had enough wars. We need more jobs for younger people and if we can get higher pensions and salaries, even better.”