BELGRADE, Serbia — A near-complete official vote count of Serbia's presidential election confirmed on Monday that prime minister Aleksandar Vucic has won by a landslide in the first round of voting, further strengthening his authoritarian rule in the Balkan country amid support from Russia.
The State Election Commission said after counting 91 per cent of ballots that Vucic won 55 per cent of votes, followed by liberal candidate Sasa Jankovic with 16 per cent , and Luka Maksimovic, a parody politician, with 9 per cent .
The triumph in Sunday's balloting is a major boost for Vucic, who is now expected to further tighten his firm grip on power in Serbia. Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party also dominates the parliament.
Hundreds of mostly young people gathered in downtown Belgrade on Monday afternoon to protest against Vucic. Blowing whistles and chanting "We don't want you Vucic!" and "Vucic is a thief!" the crowd stopped traffic in front of Serbia's parliament building.
A former extreme nationalist who has rebranded himself as a pro-EU reformer, Vucic has said he wants to lead the Balkan country into the European Union, while also pushing for deeper ties to longtime ally Russia.
Vucic's candidacy was endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin amid fears from some of Moscow's expanding influence in the tense Balkan region.
Putin on Monday congratulated Vucic on his "convincing election," including popular support for his "meaningful and balanced foreign policy," the TASS news agency said.
Putin has reportedly promised his signature on the delivery of fighter planes, battle tanks and armoured vehicles to Serbia. That has triggered fears of an arms race in the war-weary Balkans.
In Brussels, the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn warned that Vucic has a "certain responsibility" in light of Sunday's polls "to use this strong support by the citizens in a careful way."
Hahn told reporters that he was comforted by Vucic's early assurances that "he will fully respect the constitutional framework, and I trust him."
Opposition candidates have accused Vucic of control over the media, mudslinging and intimidation of voters. Critics say Vucic's full control deals a blow to Serbia's fragile democracy.
"No runoff means our society is politically immature," analyst Jovo Bakic said. "Where else is there no runoff? Only in North Korea!"
Vucic has been prime minister since 2014. He is expected to appoint a figurehead successor as prime minister and transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more powerful post.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
Jovana Gec, The Associated Press