BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s National Assembly held a tense inaugural session on Tuesday as the ruling nationalists ignored widespread reports that parliamentary and municipal elections held in December were marred by vote rigging and numerous other irregularities.
As the session started, opposition lawmakers gathered around the speaker’s stand, whistling, booing and holding signs that read “You Stole the Elections.” Others held photos of populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic with a caption that read “The mafia boss.”
Supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive party displayed a large banner denouncing the opposition.
Vucic’s party won 129 seats in the 250-seat assembly in the Dec. 17 vote. The opposition Serbia Against Violence coalition finished a distant second with 65 seats.
A vote-monitoring mission made up of representatives of international rights watchdogs said in a preliminary report issued after the parliamentary and municipal elections that they were “marred by harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources.”
Serious irregularities included alleged cases of vote-buying and ballot box stuffing, according to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
The European Parliament is set to issue a declaration on the vote on Thursday. Opposition officials said the ruling party was in a hurry to hold the inaugural parliamentary session because the report is expected to include recommendations on next steps.
Vucic, who has been in power since 2012, has dismissed criticism from opponents that his government curbed democratic freedoms while allowing corruption and organized crime to run rampant.
Under Vucic, Serbia is a candidate for EU membership, but the opposition accuses the bloc of turning a blind eye to the country’s democratic shortcomings in return for stability in the Balkan region, still troubled after the wars of the 1990s.
The election did not include a vote for the president, but governing authorities backed by the dominant pro-government media ran the campaign as a referendum on Vucic.
Serbia Against Violence, a pro-EU bloc, includes parties that were behind months of street protests last year triggered by back-to-back mass shootings in May.
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