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Serbia’s ruling party says will rerun marred Belgrade vote

By AFP - Mar 02,2024 - Last updated at Mar 02,2024

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic arrives to attend the Higher Growth and faster Convergence for the Western Balkans - Summit in Tirana on Thursday (AFP photo)

BELGRADE — A bitterly fought election in Belgrade — a focus of widespread allegations of fraud during Serbia’s local and parliamentary polls in December — will be rerun, the acting city mayor said on Saturday.

The elections triggered weeks of protests and legal action over alleged fraud by President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

International observers reported “irregularities”, including “vote buying” and “ballot box stuffing”.

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said the elections were “dominated” by Vucic, a right-wing populist, “which, together with the ruling party’s systemic advantages, created unjust conditions for contestants”.

In Belgrade, the opposition accused the government of allowing voters from neighbouring Bosnia to cast ballots illegally in the vote for control of the capital.

“We decided... to have new Belgrade elections,” acting mayor Aleksandar Sapic said after a meeting on Saturday of the SNS leadership.

He said the decision to repeat the vote had nothing to do with the fraud accusations or the ruling party’s failure to win a majority of seats on the Belgrade city council.

Saturday is the deadline to form the Belgrade city assembly.

President Vucic — who does not formally lead the ruling party — asked the SNS for an election rerun earlier in the day.

“We have raised the bar [of legitimacy]. We made a decision that does not work in our favour but we are not afraid,” Sapic said.

The main opposition Serbia Against Violence alliance (SPN) hailed the decision.

“It is a victory for... citizens who filmed and photographed fraud, civil society... and the whole opposition,” said Dobrica Veselinovic, from the Green-Left Front, which is part of the SPN.

He told AFP the opposition would now fight to improve the way elections were conducted.

In a report on the December elections, the ODIHR said they were marred by “harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources”.

The speaker of the Serbian parliament speaker now has 30 days to call for a new election in Belgrade.

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