aleksandar vučić.jpg
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic
Photograph: Photo by Franz Johann Morgenbesser, used under CC BY-SA

Aleksandar Vucic has won his third election in a row with a promise to lead Serbia to EU membership, alleviate economic and social problems and ensure peace with the country's neighbours in the volatile Balkans.

A far-right nationalist belligerently opposed to all things Western and hostile to Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians and other ethnic groups in the region over much of the past 25 years, Vucic has worked hard to shed the extremist stigma.

In the last four years under Vucic, 46, and his Progressive Party (SNS), Serbia has made some progress economically and diplomatically, but less than he had promised.

Over the last two decades, Vucic reinvented himself from a far-right nationalist who was hostile to the West to a soft-spoken moderate requesting broad support to carry out pro-EU reforms.

He has admitted to being wrong in the past and said that it took him time to realize his mistakes.

"It was a process. It is not that you wake up one morning and say: I'm different," he told Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung two years ago, explaining his shift towards the political mainstream. 

"Unlike many politicians in Serbia who always act as if they are always right, I am not ashamed to say that I was mistaken. I erred. I was wrong. It isn't easy, but I admit that," he said.

In July 1995, addressing parliament as a legislator, Vucic promised that 100 Muslims will die for each Serb killed in NATO bombings of Serb forces during the closing stages of the Bosnian war.

"So bomb if you dare," he said then, as NATO prepared to bomb Serb positions in Bosnia, 10 days after armed forces overran the UN-safe haven of Srebrenica. 

"Kill one Serb, we will kill 100 Muslims. Let's see if the international community or anybody else dares hit Serb positions," the young legislator told the Serbian parliament.

Meanwhile in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces executed around 8,000 Muslim Bosniak boys and men and drove the rest of the population out, in what UN courts later called genocide.

As information minister during the last two years of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, Vucic shut down dozens of independent media in Serbia in speedy 24-hour trials allowed by a repressive law he helped design.

After Milosevic fell in 2000, Vucic survived with the extremist Radical Party, leading protests against the arrests of war crimes suspects and persistently campaigning against Serbia's rapprochement with the West.

Then, in 2008, he made an about turn.

Vucic abandoned the radicals after two decades, joined the SNS and changed his stance on the EU, and toned down his rhetoric.

He is known to lash out, especially when lamenting his lonely position at the forefront of reforms that are unpopular in the country.

"When I see you united, I find the strength to withstand all attacks and continue fighting," he told the final SNS rally ahead of the elections.

Despite his electoral triumph, his unpopularity is also visible.

Nationalists say he betrayed Serbia by signing a normalization agreement with Kosovo, and pensioners feel betrayed since his cabinet decreed a 10-per-cent pension cut. But most of all, his role in Milosevic's regime is held against him.

Among his achievements, Vucic lists the fact that he and the SNS paved the way for the European Union to open membership talks with Belgrade.

Last year, he went to Srebrenica to pay respect to Muslim victims of the 1995 massacre, seeking reconciliation with former foes.

His government managed to cut down the budget deficit and launch a 1.2-billion-euro (1.45-billion-dollar) standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund in late 2014, he says, promising rapid growth in wages and a drop in unemployment. 

At the same time, however, independent economists say that the deficit was reduced by juggling numbers, not reforms.

Economic analyst Mijat Lakicevic wrote that instead of cutting pensions and wages, the government should have privatized, restructured or liquidated parts of the lumbering state-owned economy, and streamlined the bloated administration. 

Opponents and critics accuse him of supporting cronyism and nepotism, pointing out that nobody has been sentenced for corruption despite dozens of scandals and threats of promises of arrests and convictions.

Addressing supporters after his most recent victory, however, Vucic smiled and referred to his opponents as a parent would speak of a mischievous child.

He thanked all the voters who turned out, and said: "I will try to be the prime minister of all citizens of Serbia."

Latest news

SpaceX plans to fly two passengers around moon, NASA involved

SpaceX is planning to fly two private citizens around the moon next year, the first manned trip to the Earth's only natural satellite in more than four decades, the private company said Monday.

Key congressman has 'no evidence' of Trump contacts with Russia

The chairman of the US House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee said he is not aware of any evidence of improper contacts between Russian officials and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Gambia's new President Barrow fires army chief

Gambia's new President Adama Barrow has sacked army chief Ousman Badjie, replacing him with a presidential military aide.

Star investor Buffett takes a bigger bite of Apple, doubling shares

Stock market guru Warren Buffett on Monday revealed that his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway doubled its share of iPhone producer Apple stocks last month.

Minister: Erdogan not welcome in Austria for referendum campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not come to Austria to campaign to Turkish citizens living there ahead of a constitutional reform referendum in his country, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Monday.

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish judge remands German reporter in custody

A Turkish judge remanded German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in custody Monday, according to newspaper Die Welt, sparking strong condemnation from the German government and rights organizations.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump says he will present a "public security and national security budget" that hikes military spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.