Almost the only uncertainty surrounding Serbia's presidential election on Sunday is whether powerful Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will become president in one round or two rounds of voting.

Vucic has been leading rivals from the overwhelmed, fragmented opposition by a mile: according to a survey by Faktor Plus agency published by the daily Blic a week before the poll, he could gain 53 per cent of the vote and therefore win in the first round.

His nearest rivals are the former Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, who is tipped to win 15 per cent, and the former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president Vuk Jeremic, with 8.6 per cent.

Next in line was Luka Maksimovic, a jester candidate running under the alias of Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli, who grabbed the attention of the nation not with a programme – which he does not have – but by mocking Serbia’s encrusted, corrupt politics.

There are eight more candidates, their support ranging from barely detectable to 5.5 per cent. Among them is Vucic's political father, the extremist radical Party chief Vojislav Seselj.

Vucic, at 47 still young in political terms, has not explained why he wants to exchange the office of prime minister, which he entered for the second time just seven months ago, for the in theory largely ceremonial post of president.

It is apparent, however, that he intends to keep all levers of power in his hands during the five-year term – from leadership over the Progressive Party (SNS), to an effective monopoly over the media and control over police and security services.

He cautiously precluded a rift in the SNS by forcing out the party founder and present President Tomislav Nikolic. In a humiliating show of force, Vucic secured the support of Nikolic’s own son, Radomir, and scuppered his father's plans to run for re-election.

Another plank of his strategy was to leave time only for a minimalist 30-day campaign - forcing less powerful rivals to scrabble for votes - and eliminating criticism in parliament by sending it to an unscheduled recess.

By not resigning as prime minister Vucic has been able to use a hectic official agenda – including meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin - to promote himself as well as attacking both his rivals and the few media outlets critical of him.

Perhaps another unsurprising aspect of this weekend's vote is that Vucic is not the first Serbian leader to embrace the concept of reigning instead of governing.

Despite the introduction of multi-party democracy nearly three decades ago in post-Communist Serbia, strongman Slobodan Milosevic also held all the power while in offices with little formal authority, as did Nikolic's predecessor, Boris Tadic.

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