Serbia’s conservative prime minister was on course to become the Balkan country’s next head of state as polling stations closed in presidential elections on Sunday evening.
Aleksandar Vucic, who as prime minister has sought to combine support for European Union membership with deeper ties with Russia, is the front runner against 10 other candidates hoping to replace outgoing president Tomislav Nikolic.
Other contenders for the presidency include Sasa Jankovic, a humanrights lawyer and former government ombudsman, Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister, and Vojislav Seselj, Mr Vucic’s one-time political mentor.
"I really hope that with these elections, Serbia will carry on toward its further stability with full support of its government," Mr Vucic said as he cast his ballot. "I don't know if I'll win, but I truly hope that those who want to destabilize Serbia will not succeed."
About 30 percent of voters had cast ballots with six hours before polls closed, a relatively low turnout thought to favour Mr Vucic.
Mr Vucic, who became prime minister in 2014, has sought to portray himself as a safe pair of hands on the tiller of the state in a region still scarred by the wars of the 1990s and facing growing instability from pressures including immigration and slow economic growth.
Opposition candidates have accused him of authoritarian tendencies, saying as prime minister he has overseen attempts to muzzle the free press and aligned the country closer to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Critics say Mr Vucic may seek to emulate Mr Putin by turning the currently largely symbolic office of president of Serbia into a more powerful role.
Mr Putin hosted Mr Vucic in the Kremlin last week, in what many saw as a public endorsement.
Mainstream opposition politicians are being overshadowed by the emergence of Luka Maksimovic, a 25-year old media student who is running as a parody politician called Ljubisa 'Beli' Preletacevic.
Dressed in a white suit, fur coat, and chunky jewellery in a mockery of the perceived corruption of mainstream politicians for perceived corruption, the character has proved so popular polls suggest he may win second place in Sunday’s vote.
Mr Vucic needs to take more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off on April 16.