Voting has closed in Serbia’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections in a contest that gives Serbs a sharp choice between a liberal government and one that would include former nationalist allies of the late Slobodan Milosevic.
Sunday, May 6 vote came after a campaign dominated by economic issues, in which President Boris Tadic, a member of the Democratic Party, is pitted against conservative populist Tomislav Nikolic.
Surveys put Tadic and Nikolic neck-and-neck in the presidential race, with their parties also running close in the parliamentary elections.
The elections are seen as a turning point for Serbia because for the first time in almost two decades they are focused on the economy rather than the Balkan conflicts that left Belgrade internationally isolated for much of the past two decades.
Both camps support Serbia’s EU membership bid while breakaway Kosovo, which overshadowed the last polls, has been pushed to the background by concerns about Serbia’s stumbling economy and record unemployment.
Until a few years ago, Nikolic was strongly against EU candidacy. Serbia’s economic outlook looks grim and economists predict unemployment, now at 24 per cent, will rise further.
Throughout the campaign Tadic has insisted that only a government led by his Democratic Party can bring in foreign investment and usher Serbia into the EU.
Tadic has been an unfailing supporter of the EU and led Belgrade from an international pariah state to being awarded EU candidacy status in March.
The Democratic Party has been trying to capitalize on that but the growing economic crisis has fed voter discontent with the ruling coalition.
Nikolic, 60, a reformed ultra-nationalist has promised to raise taxes for the rich and use the money for pensions and welfare, and vowed to attract billions of euros in investments.
Around 6.7 million Serbians are eligible to vote and choose among 12 presidential candidates and 18 parties contesting the parliamentary elections, Al Jazeera reported.