Aleksandar Vui, favourite to win Serbias elections on Sunday, once enforced censorship for Slobodan Miloevi, but is now, he says, a reformed character

The man tipped to become Serbias next chairperson says he has undergone a transformation from the hardline patriot who once enforced censorship for Slobodan Miloevi, contradicting adversary accusations that he is a power-hungry dictator with authoritarian tendencies.

Aleksandar Vui, the Serbian “ministers “, said his personal conversion mirrored a altered in the Balkan country, which he insisted no longer aspired to be a major performer on the global stage since its key role in the devastating 1990 s conflicts that accompanied the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

Vui, 47, is the overwhelming frontrunner among 11 candidates contesting Sundays presidential election with some polls indicating he may win more than 50% in the first round, foreclosing the necessity of achieving a run-off ballot.

Victory would cement his already unquestioned posture as Serbias most powerful legislator, equally feted and respected by western European leaders such as Germanys chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, both of whom hosted him this month.

However, critics are fretted Vui could become too powerful, at a time when he already effectively dominates the most important state institutions, leading to liberties in Serbias fledgling republic being eroded.

Vui
Vui with the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/ Getty Images

They point to his role as communications clergyman under Miloevi – the late Serbian strongman chairwoman subsequently convicted of war crimes when he penalty newspapers for contravening draconian censorship regulations during the 1999 conflict with Nato over Kosovo, and presided over a diet of state broadcast propaganda.

Sitting in an ornate meeting room across the street from the former army headquarters still in ruins from the Nato bombing, Vui said such criticisms failed to take account of how he had changed.

Theres an dialect in Serbian that merely donkeys dont change, Vui said, spoke of fluent English, perfected while working for a year in the UK. Its very normal to change your views. Its very normal to change yourself, that you become more mature, more responsible.

When you have to pay every single month 2.5 million pensioners and public service employees, its not always easy. But when I have all this in intellect, then you see that your most important[ responsibility] is to speak about stability.

Vui reached his political reputation as a member of the far-right Radical party, which campaigned for a Greater Serbia and supported the bloody wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, which expense an estimated 100,000 lives and left some of Serbias resulting legislators accused of facilitating ethnic cleansing.

He left in 2008 to join the Serbian Progressive party( SNS) formed by his mentor Tomislav Nikoli, the current president, “whos not” standing in Sundays poll.

Analysts say Vuis decision to seek the presidency which is nominally ceremonial and constitutionally less powerful than the premiers office was driving in polls indicating Nikoli would lose, any results that could have threatened Vuis political dominance.

His plan, some claim, is to govern from the presidency while install an marionette figure in the cabinet of ministers responsible for stance. Vui was elected Serbias prime minister in 2014 and re-elected in 2016 with a reduced majority, although opinion poll indicate strong public backing for his stated objective of pushing Serbias bid to join the European union, which he says is now our own countries top strategic goal.

Critics say Vui has won European backing by playing along with an EU-sponsored dialogue over Kosovo while continuing to act in a more authoritarian way domestically and describing ever closer to Russia.

The EU is making a big mistake in Serbia, said Boko Jaki, a veteran columnist with the Politika newspaper. They are selfishly very interested in Kosovo and not in the quality of social and political life here. So Vui is their darling because he supports the Brussels dialogue. But they dont am worried about what he does in his own country and thats playing into Russias hands.

Posters
Posters of Aleksandar Vui in Novi Sad, Serbia. Photo: Marko Djurica/ Reuters

Addressing the charges of dictatorship, Vui said: Thats my style of republic. Because they can always express their stance, they can always say that Im authoritarian, autocratic, or whatever they want. But I go to the parliament more often than any other prime minister to reply to their questions, have discussions with them. Its a very open society and I have no problem to hear those comments.

He was of the view that his former pro-nationalist positions had changed, something he claimed had helped to win over the Serbian public. These notions were wrong my views, many things[ have changed ], he said.
His priority now is to woos inward investment and generate economic stability for Serbia, a country of 7. 2 million people, blighted by high unemployment and lagging living standards and which he said had also changed.

Serbia in the 1990 s wanted to be a huge musician on the global political scene. Serbia today doesnt want to be that, he said.

True to these more limited objectives, Vui rebuffed suggestions that Serbia could act as an intermediary between the EU and Russia, which has played a highly visible role in the election, with nearly all the candidates voicing pro-Moscow sentiments.

I have no such dreamings, he said. There have always been some people in Serbia that were thinking they were kind of messiahs or something. Im not that type of a guy. Im a guy that will always deal with concrete things, which entails how to get better living the criteria for our ordinary people. Not dreaming big dreamings of foreign policy.

Yet the ubiquitous presence of massive election posters demonstrating Vuis youthful, bespectacled features smiling beside his name written in Cyrillic and initials in the Latin script belie his protestations of modesty.

Pro-Vui election adverts massively outnumber those of all other nominees combined, owing to his superior electoral money a inequality legally justified by the Progressive partys status as the biggest parliamentary grouping.

He is not a true democrat but an auto-democrat, meaning republic has to serve his interests, said Mihailo Crnobrnja, president of the European Movement of Serbia and a former rector in Miloevis government before the wars of the 1990 s.

What he would most like is to become another Tito[ the despot of communist-era Yugoslavia ], Crnobrnja said. Hes already comparing himself to Tito , not in political accomplishment but in public works, railways, roads, opening factories, etc.

And despite his public rejection of international status, television commercials and election rallies play up Vuis ties with Merkel, Putin and other world leaders. At a mass rally in the central Serb city of Kragujevac on Wednesday, Sergei Zheleznyak, general secretary of Putins United Russia party, told the crowd that the Russian president was endorsing Vui, earning warm applause.

The backing of foreign statesmen and women has triggered accusations that Vui is use the privileges of the prime ministers office for campaign intents leaving other nominees, such as the Vuk Jeremi, a former foreign minister, and Saa Jankovi, lagging behind in the polls.

Student
Student and presidential nominee Luka Maksimovi. Photo: Marko Djurica/ Reuters

In the is a lack of serious rivalry, attention has focused on 25 -year-old Luka Maksimovi, a communications student and novelty nominee who has campaigned as his alter ego, Ljubia Preletaevi Beli, and openly ridicules legislators with an endless series of outlandish and mock election pledges while wearing a garish white suit that elicits comparings to Tito.

Despite having turned down 258,000 of state election funds, some surveys prove Maksimovi in second place with around 11% of the vote, with signs that his outrageous persona is popular with young voters. Among his promises are that Kosovo lauded by nationalist politicians as the heart and soul of Serbia will beg to come back if he is elected.

This is a social experiment. We wanted to show those in power that the young generation is not sleeping but they have forgotten about us, he told the Guardian. Its a gag, but a serious gag. Serbia is a plutocracy and humour is the best way to fight this. Serbia requires revitalisation.

The campaign has described comparings to the Italian comedian-politician Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star movement has emerged as a political force. But analysts caution that its popularity hazards taking elections from serious anti-Vui nominees, thus further weakening the opposition.

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