It is a tight race between the two presidential hopefuls in the Serbian elections, according to polls. With Serbia now an EU candidate, the focus of the election is the dire state of the country's economy.
Serbia's ruling president Boris Tadic was narrowly ahead of nationalist opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic after voting ended in Serbia's elections on Sunday according to estimates from the election-monitoring organization CESID. Preliminary estimates based on votes from 1,000 of 8,000 polling stations showed Tadic with 26.8 percent of the votes and Nikolic trailing behind slightly with 25.6 percent. This puts the two candidates through to the second round of presidential elections.
Provisional results based on the 11 percent of ballets counted so far also show that Tadic's Democratic Party of Serbia have gained 24.1 percent of the votes, whereas Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party have secured 23.6 percent.
Voting for the presidential, parliamentary and legislative elections ended on Sunday without any major hitches. Turnout is believed to have been unexpectedly high, with 48 percent of the 6.8 million registered voters casting their ballots by 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), according to the national elections commission. Analysts say the reportedly high turnout would disproportionately benefit the ruling coalition, which has been in power since 2008.
The outcome is likely to be heavily influenced by economic issues. Unemployment in Serbia stands at a record 24 percent, with experts predicting a further rise. Economic growth came in at just 1.6 percent in 2011 and is expected to almost reach a standstill this year.
Tadic, who is pro-European and steered Serbia to EU candidate status, said the vote was "crucial for the next 10 years in Serbia … in terms of the economy, foreign policy and the challenges Serbia must face."
"I expect that Serbia will continue on its reform path," Tadic said after casting his ballot. "A better life, better living standards for ordinary people are our strategic goals."
Challenger Nikolic, a former ultra-nationalist turned populist, who also has Russia's backing, acknowledged that EU membership would benefit the country but he insists that Serbia "can only join the EU with Kosovo."
"Serbia is anxiously awaiting changes, the changes that are necessary. It cannot go on like this any longer. I think that either tonight, or in two weeks, we can openly discuss how to move Serbia forward," he said after voting, adding, like Tadic, that he was confident he would win.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by 90 countries, including five EU members and the US. Serbia refuses to accept the secession, and Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations.
Tensions intensified on the eve of the ballot as Kosovo sought to block voting in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, saying the elections would undermine its sovereignty. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has agreed to oversee the elections there to avoid any further escalation.
ng,sej/ccp (AFP, dpa, AP)