April 28, 2016 / 11:48 AM / 2 years ago

Serbs to vote again in some areas after abuses, could affect result

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia will re-run voting at 15 polling stations after days of bickering among the ruling and opposition parties over alleged irregularities in Sunday’s election, a move that could significantly affect the outcome.

Serbian Prime Minister and leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Aleksandar Vucic reacts after elections in Belgrade, Serbia April 24, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who wants to take Serbia into the European Union, won the election with 48 percent of the vote, unchanged from 2014. But his Progressive Party’s majority in parliament was reduced as more parties attained the five percent vote threshold needed for seats.

A day after the vote, left-wing and ultra-nationalist opposition parties teamed up to demand a recount, claiming election fraud. Vucic responded by accusing the opposition of attempting to rig the vote and influence the Election Commission, and also demanded a recount.

Scattered abuses were reported including missing or vandalized ballots, more votes cast than voters, people voting without identification and one case where a drunkard smashed ballot boxes.

International observers, including rights bodies Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said fundamental freedoms were respected although there was biased media coverage, undue advantage for incumbents and a blurring of state and party activities.

After considering the complaints, the Election Commission said late on Wednesday the vote would be repeated within a week at 15 polling stations around the country, totaling 16,678 voters, although there would be no nationwide recount.

Counting of valid votes, still going on after the election, is expected to be completed on Thursday, the commission said.

While the affected polling places comprise a tiny proportion of the 8,549 voting stations nationwide, the impact could be significant because two political groups are a whisker above the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

Those two are the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)/Dveri, an ultra-nationalist grouping that media reports say is just 48 ballots above the threshold. A leftist alliance grouped around former president Boris Tadic is also just above it.

The partial re-run could reinforce their position or push them below the threshold, in which case their seats - around 13 in each case - would be shared out proportionally among the other parties in parliament.

That would give Vucic’s conservative Progressives - currently in line to get 131 seats in the 250-seat assembly - a more comfortable majority.

If DSS-Dveri gets in to parliament, it would bring another pro-Russian, anti-EU voice into the assembly, in addition to the Radicals of Vojislav Seselj, who was recently acquitted of war crimes by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.

“This is a dangerous gamble by the opposition parties because they can lose what they already have and it could also erode trust in the system,” said Milos Damljanovic, head of research at the Belgrade-based BIRN Consultancy.

Vucic has said he will decide on the make-up of the new Serbian government after his party meets on May 28.

Editing by Adrian Croft/Mark Heinrich

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