Serbia’s conservative Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is projected to win the country’s presidential election in a landslide, according to an exit poll.
Based on nearly half of the votes counted from a sample of polling stations, the Ipsos agency predicted that Vucic would win 55.8 percent of the votes, with opposition candidate Sasa Jankovic coming in second with about 15 percent.
The polling group had earlier projected that Vucic would win 58.1 per cent of the vote.
“This is a very important day for us, showing which way Serbia should be heading,” Vucic, 47, told supporters at his right-wing party’s headquarters after the exit poll was announced.
“Serbia will remain on the European and reformist path, but also friends with Russia and China.”
Vucic said that he will remain prime minister another two months, until he takes over as the head of state.
If the projection is confirmed during the official count, Vucic will clinch the post outright, without having to face a second round runoff.
To claim victory in the first round, a candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote. Official results are not expected before Monday.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from the capital, Belgrade, said Vucic’s victory was in line with forecasts.
“The opposition are fearing that Vucic will use the position to consolidate his power further, but that all depends on whether he wins outright and whether he gives up his political party when takes up that role,” she said.
The post of president has largely been ceremonial in recent times but analysts believe it would be a much more influential position if occupied by Vucic.
Vucic’s opponents say he has taken an authoritarian streak that has led him to take control over the media in Serbia since his party rose to power in 2012 and he became prime minister three years ago.
In the week leading up to the vote, national TV channels devoted 51 percent of their airtime to Vucic, more than all the other candidates put together, according to analysis by the Kliping research agency published in the Danas daily.
That rose to 67 percent when his appearances as prime minister were taken into account, added the analysis.
On Thursday, the last day of the campaign, all but two of the dozen or so national dailies appeared wrapped in full-page ads reading: “On April 2, give a decisive vote to Aleksandar Vucic”.
A lawyer by training, Vucic joined the far-right Serbian Radical Party in 1993 and soon became one of its top officials, known for his hardline speeches.
He fiercely defended the actions of ethnic Serb leaders during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
“You kill one Serb and we will kill 100 Muslims,” he said in July 1995, just days after Bosnian Serbs killed almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Srebrenica massacre.
In 2008 he announced he had split from the Radicals to form the centre-right Progressives along with the outgoing President Tomislav Nikolic.