Projections indicate Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won a decisive win against a crowded field of opponents. Serbia's presidency is largely ceremonial, but critics worry Vucic may use the role to consolidate his power.
Serbia Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic looked set to sweep a first round presidential election on Sunday, coming in with 56 percent of votes, according to a result projection by the Ipsos polling group.
"Voters showed which way they want Serbia to go," Vucic said at his Progressive Party's headquarters.
"Serbia will remain on the European and reformist path, but also friends with Russia and China."
Declaring his victory, Vucic said he will remain prime minister another two months, until he takes over as the head of state. In his speech, Vucic went on to voice "particular gratitude" to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who both met with him over the last month.
If the projection holds above 50 percent, the 47-year-old conservative will have avoided an April 16 run-off. Official results are not expected until Monday.
Ipsos projected former ombudsman Sasa Jankovic to get 15 percent of the vote. Twenty-five year old student Luka Maksimovic, more commonly known as Ljubisa Preletacevic or Beli, came in in third with 9.3 percent, a surprise for a candidate who based his campaign on mocking Serbian politicians.
Accusations of authoritarian tendencies
The office of president is largely ceremonial, but analysts expect Vucic to maintain a hold on power by appointing a loyal ally from his party to succeed him as prime minister.
Critics have accused Vucic of authoritarian tendencies during the campaign, saying he has taken control over Serbia's media. They complain of inaccurate reports that demonize the prime minister's opponents while giving them no space to respond to the accusations.
Vucic's supporters, on the other hand, say he has a good track record of keeping the country under control in a troubled region. He has promised economic and social reforms while maintaining a balancing act of trying to join the EU and maintaining a good relationship with traditional ally Russia.
The State Election Commission said they recorded no serious voting irregularities.
ksb/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)