Serbs are voting in elections on Sunday where populist President Aleksandar Vucic is seeking to extend a decade of rule by portraying himself as the guarantor of stability in the shadow of war in Ukraine.

The voters designate their Head of State, their 250 deputies as well as several municipal councils.

According to the latest polls, the Serbian Progress Party (SNS, center-right) of Aleksandar Vucic should confirm its hold on parliament, while the president himself is in pole position for a second term.

"Personally, I see stable progress and I voted in accordance with this opinion," Milovan Krstic, 52, a government worker, told AFP.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the end of February changed the course of the campaign that should have, according to commentators,

" Peace.

Stability.

»

But Aleksandar Vucic, accused of authoritarianism by his critics, seized the war to his advantage.

In a country suffering as elsewhere from the coronavirus pandemic, he blows away fears of instability and presents himself as the only captain capable of helming the ship in stormy weather.

He campaigned under the slogan “Peace.

Stability.

Vucic”.

"These crises have shaken economies much stronger than ours, but we are completely stable, we are successfully facing the challenges," he said in a forum, also promising an average salary of 1,000 euros, against 600 currently. .

In the Balkan country once considered a pariah, the memories of the wars that consecrated the bloody disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and the economic sanctions that hit the middle class hard remain vivid.

In bad weather, people prefer a leader who promises them stability rather than risking change, Zoran Stojiljkovic, professor of political science in Belgrade, told AFP: "Big crises, at least in the short term, always favor those who who are already in power.

They generate uncertainty, fear and the hope that the system will guarantee at least basic security”.

Only a few months ago, the opposition seemed to have made a breakthrough in the country of less than seven million inhabitants.

In January, Aleksandar Vucic canceled a controversial lithium mine project that had thrown tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets, a reversal rarely seen in his decade in office, first as Deputy Prime Minister, then as Prime Minister and then as President.

The latest polls predict that it will cross the 50% mark on Sunday, but the opposition nevertheless hopes that a high turnout will trigger a second round.

According to opinion polls, Aleksandar Vucic's main rival is retired general Zdravko Ponos, a surprise candidate put forward by the pro-European opposition camp.

“It is not a question of whether the opposition will have a few more seats but whether Serbia will exist as a democratic and European country if (Vucic) remains in power for another five years”,

he told AFP.

But for analysts, the opposition has little chance of dethroning him or upsetting the composition of the outgoing parliament, won almost entirely by a pro-Vucic coalition.

Serbia, where many inhabitants support the Kremlin war, is like a UFO in Europe.

Some opposition parties share these pro-Russian views.

Those who do not share them dare not open their mouths for fear of displeasing pro-Moscow voters.

Aleksandar Vucic is running for office armed with other advantages.

During his long reign, he tightened his grip on all levels of power, including de facto control of institutions and almost all of the media.

In the months leading up to the campaign, the president also handed out financial aid,

telling his critics that he was trying to "buy" votes.

Unofficial results are expected in the evening.

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