(Vatican Radio) Serbia's strongman Aleksandar Vucic aims to consolidate his grip on power as he seeks to win a presidential election despite opposition fears that the country is heading towards authoritarian rule. While the post of president has largely been ceremonial, critics believe that it would be a more influential position if occupied by Vucic who tries to balance Serbia's interests in historical ally Russia and the European Union.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Serbia's opposition says Prime Minister Vucic, who is running for president Sunday, is trying to concentrate power in his own hands.
One of his main challengers, Presidential hopeful Vuk Jeremic, is among those openly expressing concern about the situation.
"This is the first time [Europe's security organization] OSCE was not invited to observe the elections," he said.
"This is a campaign in which the ruling party’s candidate received 120 times more media coverage than all opposition candidates combined,” Jeremic added.
He and others also say that the campaign for Serbia's presidential poll was the dirtiest since the elections that kept strongman Slobodan Milosevic in power in the 1990s.
This is expected to lead to even more tensions in the small Balkans country of 7.1 million where the average salary is one of Europe's lowest.
Vucic says he should be president in part because Serbia saw some economic progress since he become prime minister in 2014. His government even achieved growth of 2.8 percent last year and began cleaning up the public finances.
But the average Serbian still earns $355 per month, far below the average of most member states of the European Union which Serbia seeks to join. In addition unemployment is above 15 percent.
Vucic's centre-right Serbian Progressive Party is pro-EU. But the majority of the population is made up of Orthodox Slavs and many have a closer affinity to traditional ally Russia.
That's why Vucic travelled to Moscow just a week before the vote to discuss the delivery of six Russian Mig-29 aircraft.
He also ran a typically bullish campaign, with a video showing a plane marked "Serbia 2017" about to crash for a lack of leadership and taking out full-page ads in the press.
The opposition hopes to force Vucic into a second round, which will be held if nobody receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Shaking up the race is Luka Maksimovic. He campaigns in a Borat-style white suit, sports a samurai-style ponytail and hipster beard, touts a manifesto studded with lunatic pledges and uses a made-up name that mocks politics as the circus of greed.
Using the fictional name of Ljubisa Preletacevic -- nicknamed "Beli" (White) -- analysts claim he could even come second in the race behind Vucic, making this elections even more complicated and interesting.