Serbians Head to Polls in Europe’s First Post-Lockdown Election

BELGRADE, Serbia—Serbians went to the polls on June 21 to elect a new parliament, in Europe’s first national election since CCP virus lockdowns took effect three months ago, with the ruling conservatives expected to win a comfortable majority.

Polling stations were equipped with face masks and hand sanitizer 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 2 p.m. local time, turnout was about 27 percent compared with the almost 30 percent at the same stage of voting four years ago, figures released by the state election commission showed.

Turnout could also be hit by a boycott by some opposition parties, who say the vote won’t be free or fair, owing to President Aleksandar Vucic’s grip over the media.

Voters largely back efforts by Vucic’s ruling coalition to push for Serbian membership in the European Union while maintaining strong ties with Russia and China. But the future government will face increasing EU and U.S. pressure to recognize 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) is 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, is expected to finish second,  with about 10 percent.

The opposition center-right Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) led by Aleksandar Sapic, the mayor of Novi Beograd, Belgrade’s most populous municipality, is tipped for third.

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 isn’t up for reelection, but opposition parties that are boycotting the vote accuse 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.

Health concerns will keep some voters at home, especially among higher-risk groups, analysts and pollsters say. About 1.2 million people on the electoral list have lived abroad for years and are 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 minimize 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.

By Aleksandar Vasovic