Serbia's ruling populists assert a resounding victory in the election despite accusations of vote-rigging.

 Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

   Serbia's ruling populist party secured a comfortable victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, as indicated by an early official vote count. However, political tensions escalated due to allegations of irregularities in a local election race in the capital, Belgrade.

An opposition group claimed to have been unfairly denied victory in the Belgrade local election, refusing to acknowledge the results and demanding a rerun of the ballot.

The parliamentary and local elections in the Balkan country featured a showdown between the populist president Aleksandar Vučić's Serbian Progressive Party and the Serbia Against Violence opposition alliance. According to a nearly complete preliminary tally by the state election commission, Vučić's SNS party garnered 47% of the parliamentary vote, while Serbia Against Violence secured 23%.

Several smaller parties also participated in the election, which took place just 18 months after the previous presidential and parliamentary vote.

If the initial results are confirmed in the final vote count, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) will secure an absolute majority in the 250-member parliament, allowing them to form the next government independently.

Official results for Belgrade's city hall are pending, but projections from polling agencies Ipsos and Cesid indicate that the SNS won 38% of the ballots in Belgrade, while Serbia Against Violence secured 35%. However, allegations of fraud have been raised by Serbia Against Violence, citing numerous reports of irregularities during the campaign and on voting day.

Election monitors and independent media reported irregularities, including allegations that ethnic Serbs from neighboring Bosnia were mass-bussed to vote in Belgrade. Serbia Against Violence claimed that 40,000 identity documents were issued for individuals not residing in the capital.

Another report detailed an assault on a monitoring team, with their car attacked using baseball bats in a northern Serbian town. Additionally, there are allegations of voters being paid or coerced to support the ruling party.

The independent Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability group, which monitors elections in Serbia, stated, "Problems that marked the election day on 17 December were particularly serious in Belgrade, primarily caused by the intent to influence citizens' electoral will."

Vučić and his party have categorically denied the allegations made by the opposition.

In response, the opposition announced plans to file official complaints and scheduled a street protest for later on Monday.

Opposition politician Marinika Tepić stated early on Monday, "Hyperproduction of voters who do not live in Serbia, let alone in Belgrade, is a flagrant abuse of the law. We will use all legal means at our disposal to democratically defend the voting will of the people."

While the election did not involve the presidency, governing authorities, backed by dominant pro-government media, framed the campaign as a de facto referendum on Vučić.

Serbia Against Violence, a pro-European Union bloc, is comprised of parties that played a pivotal role in months-long street protests earlier in the year, sparked by two consecutive mass shootings in May.

Serbia, situated in the Balkans, has maintained cordial ties with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Despite being a candidate for European Union membership since 2014, the country has faced accusations of a gradual decline in democratic freedoms over the past few years.