European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has congratulated Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on his "convincing" victory in a presidential election over the weekend, saying he was "looking forward" to working together on the Balkan state's accession to the bloc.
Vucic, who pledged his ruling Progressive Party would form a government in the next two months as he steps down as prime minister to take the presidency, won 55.1 percent of the vote with 91.2 percent of ballots counted, according to results published by the State Electoral Commission headquarters on April 3.
The 46-year-old needed more than 50 percent of the votes to avoid an April 16 runoff against the next highest performer. Sasa Jankovic, a former ombudsman, was second with 16.3 percent, according to the commission.
Official results are expected later on April 3.
"Looking forward to working with new #President as partners and friends on #EU #accession.Serbia and EU: #bettertogether!" Hahn wrote on Twitter.
Vucic is expected to use the presidency to appoint a figurehead successor as prime minister and to transform the presidency into a more powerful position to consolidate his power.
He has vowed to continue leading Serbia into the EU, but he also pushed for closer ties to longtime ally Russia, even meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the waning days of the campaign.
"A huge majority of people in Serbia support continuation of the European path for Serbia, along with preserving our traditionally good ties with Russia and China," Vucic said, characterizing his victory as "crystal clear."
Some observers, however, have voiced concerns that Vucic's dominance could push the Balkan country back into the autocracy that Yugoslavia's late strongman Slobodan Milosevic symbolized during his decade in power.
A former ultranationalist who broke away from the Radicals in 2008 to establish the more moderate Progressive Party, Vucic has pledged his commitment to Serbia's goal of membership in the EU by 2019.
At the same time, Vucic, an information minister under Milosevic, has brought Serbia closer to Russia with increased talk of military and economic cooperation.
Putin congratulated Vucic on his "convincing victory," saying he "is known in Russia as a principled supporter of the strengthening of friendly relations between Russia and Serbia," the Kremlin said.
The integration of the Western Balkans is a key policy goal of the EU and United States, which say they hope to stabilize a region ravaged by war and economic turmoil and riddled with political corruption.
But many Serbs are disillusioned with the country's politicians as they struggle to shake off a legacy of political corruption that has taken root since it emerged following the 1990s conflicts that broke apart Yugoslavia.
Reforms aimed at modernizing the economy and bringing Serbia into the EU have hit many workers hard, exacerbating the backlash. Longtime ally Russia, meanwhile, opposes the integration of Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, into the NATO security alliance, and the EU and is trying to extend its influence in the region.
With tensions simmering between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, an ethnically charged political stalemate in Macedonia, and accusations of Russian interference in Montenegro's move toward NATO and the EU, concerns have grown over Serbia's direction and how it could reignite the Balkan powder keg.
"Is it possible that Milosevic's former information minister can miraculously turn into a European?" asks Eric Gordy of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London.
"How on earth can a person who stands behind tabloids that publish scandalous stories, not only on his rivals but on various analysts, researchers, journalists, calling many of them spies, how can such a person possibly be a European? He has never been and will never be one."