Serbia's incumbent and pro-European President Boris Tadic has won the presidential runoff, according to partial results by the election authorities and projections by pollsters.
"I can announce that we won in these presidential elections," Tadic told a crowd of supporters gathered outside his Democratic Party (DS) headquarters Sunday.
Tadic was leading ultra-nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic with 51 per cent to 47 per cent, with roughly half of ballots counted, the central election commission said, announcing raw figures, not a projection.
The private election-monitoring agency Cesid projected a 50.5 per cent to 47.9 percent victory for Tadic, basing its figures on a sample that has been proved in nearly two-dozen polls over the last eight years.
Tadic's DS party already started celebrating, and columns of his supporters started driving around downtown Belgrade, honking and cheering.
A Roma brass band - a staple item in Serb celebrations - was already summoned to the DS seat before Tadic appeared to claim victory for a second five-year term.
With his triumph, the 50-year-old psychologist, who assumed leadership over the DS after its leader, reformist Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in 2003, has kept a foot in the European door for Serbia.
Tadic says that Belgrade must remain on course to join the European Union (EU), even if leading Western nations back the looming secession of Serbia's breakaway province Kosovo.
"Serbia is without doubt on its way to full membership of the EU," he said after casting his ballot Sunday.
Nikolic, leader of the opposition Serbian Radical Party, the largest force in parliament and a key part of the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic, would have pushed for a freeze of relations with the West over Kosovo.
He acknowledged the defeat 90 minutes after voting ended, congratulated Tadic and appealed to his supporters to remain calm.
Now Tadic has more leverage on his uneasy ally in the governing coalition of conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who shares Nikolic's views of the EU and particularly NATO.
Kostunica had refused to back either Tadic or Nikolic between the election rounds. Now, with Tadic and DS on the rise, he faces a choice between shoring up Serbia's wavering path toward EU or early elections.