Serbia's general election tests EU bid amid far-right surge

Serbia's general election tests EU bid amid far-right surge

Polls have opened in Serbia's general election, which is being seen as a test of prime minister Aleksandar Vucic's proclaimed bid to lead the Balkan nation to European Union membership.

Vucic has called the vote two years early, saying he needs a new mandate to press ahead with reforms demanded by the EU.

The vote on Sunday comes amid a surge in popularity for far-right groups that want Serbia to ditch its EU bid and turn to Russia instead.

Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party is predicted to win most votes, but the election is also expected to bring back the far-right Radical Party to parliament after its leader Vojislav Seselj was acquitted of war crimes by a UN court.

There are 6.7 million voters.

Seselj has said the vote is a de-facto referendum on whether Serbia joins the "enemy" EU, or turns to some kind of a union with "our traditional ally Russia".

While no major surprises are expected, Sunday's vote could tilt Serbia to the right. Any rekindling of nationalism in the Balkans is considered more dangerous than in the rest of Eastern Europe because of the wars in the 1990s that claimed some 100,000 lives.

Western countries have sought to pacify Balkan nations by keeping them on track for EU membership. This could fail if Serbia gives up EU integration and turns to Russia instead, analysts say.

"Our membership in the European Union is something we have to fight for, because there is no other way for us," said Blazo Mitric, a Belgrade resident, after he cast his ballot.

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