Serbia's PM Aleksandar Vucic declares victory in presidential election
Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has declared victory in the country's presidential election.
Mr Vucic made the comments as a projection by independent pollster Ipsos Strategic Marketing had him receiving more than 55pc of the votes cast - more than enough to claim the presidency outright.
The polling agency's projection showed liberal challenger Sasa Jankovic placing second with 15pc and Luka Maksimovic, a media student who ran as a parody politician, coming in third with 9pc.
The agency had a representative sample of votes from different polling stations and issued its projection with 70pc of the vote sample tallied. Official results are expected on Monday.
Mr Vucic, a former ultranationalist now a declared pro-European Union politician, had been predicted to win the presidency by a high margin against 10 opposition candidates.
He needed to win by more than 50pc of the vote to avoid a run-off election on April 16 that would have put him in a much trickier position against a single opposition candidate.
The prime minister since 2014, Mr Vucic was expected to use a win to appoint a figurehead successor as prime minister and to transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more powerful post from which he could rule unchallenged.
The opposition has accused Mr Vucic of muzzling the media and intimidating voters ahead of the election.
Mr Vucic denied the allegations, saying only he can bring stability to a region scarred by the wars of the 1990s, which Mr Vucic supported at the time.
"I really hope that with these elections, Serbia will carry on toward its further stability with full support of its government," Mr Vucic said as he cast his ballot. "I don't know if I'll win, but I truly hope that those who want to destabilise Serbia will not succeed."
Mr Jankovic, an independent candidate with no party affiliation, said he was happy with his campaign, which has galvanised the pro-democratic movement in Serbia that has been upset with the country's persistent corruption and growing autocracy.
"In Serbia, a new, honest political movement has been created, and it's the reason why we should be optimistic," Mr Jankovic said after he voted.
Contrary to his claims that he wants to lead Serbia into the EU, Mr Vucic has been pushing for deeper ties with long-time ally Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has endorsed him.
Before the vote, Mr Vucic visited Mr Putin, who reportedly promised his signature on the delivery of fighter planes, battle tanks and armoured vehicles to Serbia. The move triggered fears of an arms race in the western Balkans, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.
The biggest surprise of the election was Mr Maksimovic, a media student who ran as a parody politician.
As a satirical candidate decked out in a white suit and oversized jewellery, Mr Maksimovic mocked corruption in Serbian politics by promising to steal if he were elected. His supporters were mostly young voters alienated by Serbia's decades-long crisis and economic decline.
Mr Maksimovic' s widely viewed videos on social media networks portray him doing push-ups, sucking a raw egg and riding a white horse surrounded by mock bodyguards.