Tense negotiations over possible government coalitions can be expected after the elections, since none of the two strongest parties - the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Serbian Progressive Party - are expected to emerge as clear winners.
None of the two main parties have predefined coalition partners either, adding uncertainty to the election's outcome.
Both parties claim to be in favour of European integration, with EU membership at the core of the programme of the Democratic Party, which is headed by Serbian President Boris Tadić.
The Progressive Party for its part took a pro-European stance only after its founding in 2008, when it decided to split from the nationalist Serbian Radical Party. As a result, it has yet to prove its commitment to European integration and democratic standards. The historic leader of the Radical Party Vojislav Šešelj is currently standing trial for war crimes before the Hague tribunal.
Progressives in the lead
Opinion polls indicate that the Progressives are in the lead by two to five percentage points ahead of the parliamentary election. At the same time, outgoing president Boris Tadić and the leader of the Progressive Party, Tomislav Nikolić, are running neck and neck for the presidential poll, which will be decided in the second round.
Although the two polls are in theory separate, the result of the presidential election will almost certainly influence the negotiations for the new government, as it will solidify the position of the party whose candidate ends up winning.
Prior to the elections, both parties said their believed in their victory. "Nothing can stop us, our victory will be far greater than you can dream of," Nikolić told supporters on Thursday (3 May), the last day of the campaign before a media curfew.
Outgoing President Tadić, for his part, called on everyone to cast their ballot since a high turnout is believed to benefit his coalition. "We will definitely win if everyone comes out to vote, I won't give anyone the right to get comfortable, we haven't had that right all these years. If we fail to win, that will only be the consequence of some among us not voting and it will be our fault," Tadić said at a rally in downtown Belgrade on Wednesday.
According to a recent survey, 52% of voters are expected take part to the parliamentary election, while 20% are still undecided. The coalition gathered around the Progressive Party is expected to win the biggest share of votes, with opinion polls putting them at 32.5%.
Apart from the Progressives, the coalition comprises New Serbia - a populist and conservative party that was once a partner of the right-wing Democratic Party of Serbia - and the Power of Serbia movement, which is led by Bogoljub Karić, a businessman who has amassed considerable wealth during the rule of Slobodan Milošević. Karić fled Serbia in 2006 amid charges of causing the state €40 million worth of losses as the owner of the Mobtel mobile network, which has been in the hands of Norwegian company Telenor since 2006.
The coalition around the Democrats, which also includes the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina and the Social Democratic Party of Serbia, would win 27% of votes, according to the same poll.
None of these coalitions appear strong enough to form a government without other coalition partners.
Socialists emerge as kingmakers
A key coalition partner for both parties appears to be the Socialist Party of Serbia, which ruled the country in the 1990s with Slobodan Milošević at its helm. The party has since dropped its nationalist leanings and has been a partner of President Tadic's Democratic Party's since 2008.
According to estimates, the Socialists will win about 13% of votes at the parliamentary elections and paradoxically, and are practically certain to enter the new government.
Ivica Dačić, the Socialist Party's leader, hammered that point, telling supporters not to waste their votes on the other big parties. "There's no point in voting for Tadić and Nikolić, because after the elections they will both have to come to me," Dačić told the crowd at a rally in Kruševac.
During the campaign, Dačić criticised the work of his coalition partners and underlined the country's bad economic situation. However, according to his public statements, his first choice for coalition partner is still the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party stands a better chance of forming a government due to its greater capacity to form a coalition. If, however, the difference between the Democrats and the Progressives turns out to be bigger than anticipated, the possibility of the Progressives joining forces with the Socialists should not be ruled out.
Another potential coalition partner of the Democrats is the Liberal Democratic Party, formed in 2005 when a faction headed by Čedomir Jovanović stepped out of the Democratic Party. The Liberal Democratic Party has criticised the government for dragging its feet on reforms. It is seen as strictly pro-European and is the only party in Serbia that does not think Kosovo should remain part of Serbia at any cost. It is taking part in the elections with the opposition leader from the 1990s, Vuk Drašković, who today would probably be unable to pass the election threshold on his own.
Moreover, the Democratic Party can also enter into a coalition with its current partner G17 Plus, which has transformed into the United Regions of Serbia and includes some other movements as well. However, that would probably be the last resort for the Democrats, given the conflicts with United Regions leader Mlađan Dinkić over the course of the past mandate.
It appears uncertain however that the United Regions party will reach the minimum electoral threshold. Some polls say they will not, but analysts emphasise that this party could turn out to be a big surprise in the elections.
The Serbian Radical Party, which has been marginalised since the departure of the Progressives, has no chance of forming any sort of coalition and will, according to estimates, win 5.5% of votes, allowing them to enter the Parliament.
The Progressives' potential partner is the nationalist and anti-European Democratic Party of Serbia. It has gone from a relatively moderate party, whose leader Vojislav Koštunica beat Milošević in the 2000 presidential election on behalf of the opposition, to a conservative party whose views are closest to the Radicals. The latest polls give it just over 5.5% of votes.
The novelty in these elections is the running of the conservative right-wing movement Dveri (Doors), which, some analysts believe, may be the big surprise of the election and enter parliament. But that is uncertain as the polls give the party between 3.5 and 4% support.
This year, the pre-election period was marked by a negative campaign, along with promises of a better life, higher salaries, investment and curbing of corruption, but without concrete proposals for how to achieve those goals.
In the negative campaign, the Democratic Party focused on recalling Nikolić's political past – his membership in the Radical Party until 2008 and his then anti-European stance. That argument may not be that strong however, given that since 2008 the Democrats have been in coalition with the Socialist Party, which has not completely distanced itself from Slobodan Milošević, whose old party officials are still active.
The main trump card of the Progressive Party negative campaign is the poor economic situation, rampant corruption, public debt and the decline of living standards. Their campaign is therefore primarily directed against the Democrats rather than against their coalition partners.
The two largest parties have pretty similar promises as far as the economy is concerned - conditions for more investment, a better life and the eradication of corruption. Neither, however, is in the mood to talk about ways of reaching that goal and the painful measures Serbia will have to take in order to reduce its public debt and deficit.
Numerous candidates and constituencies
Twelve candidates will be running for the Serbian presidential election while there will be 18 electoral lists in the parliamentary election, six of them a minority. A total of 3,065 candidates are in the running for the 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. Seven million citizens are eligible to vote.
The Serbian Electoral Commission is to announce the final results of the presidential and general elections within 96 hours of the closing of polling stations. Until that moment, the Commission will unveil preliminary results. The first relatively reliable results will be known as early as before midnight on 6 May.
The election of a president requires a majority of votes above 50% and a second round will be necessary.