Serbian democracy under attack

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic gestures during a press conference in Belgrade on 31 January 2020. [EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC]

Democracy in Serbia is under attack by self-appointed opposition leaders who are calling for a boycott of the April elections, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić argues in this opinion piece written exclusively for EURACTIV.

Aleksandar Vučić is the president of the Republic of Serbia.

Genuine Serbian opposition voters could thus be denied their basic democratic right to political representation and could be de facto disenfranchised by a few unelected individuals who claim to represent them.

Where the boycotting parties have failed to win the hearts and minds of voters, our government, led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), has succeeded and is ready to face the electorate in a free and fair election.

Under this government, Serbia is currently enjoying a strong economy with a 4% growth in GDP, one of the fastest in Europe, while unemployment is under 10%, down from the 25% rate that we inherited.

Public debt is consistently being reduced, investments – including foreign investments – are growing at record levels, while salaries and pensions are the highest the country has ever seen.

To ensure the people can exercise their democratic right to vote in free and fair elections, the government of Serbia has spent the last twelve months working with NGOs, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the European Parliament, and political parties across the political spectrum in Serbia.

The government did not just engage in conversations and debates, it solicited and received from all foreign and domestic stakeholders, including opposition parties, requests and recommendations on how to improve laws and regulations governing the whole electoral process in the finest detail.

Last August the government of the Republic of Serbia formed the ‘Working Group on Cooperation with the OSCE and ODIHR’ with the objective to pass rules and regulations that will ensure a free and fair election this Spring.

The Working Group is chaired by the minister of internal affairs of Serbia, Nebojsa Stefanovic, who will soon present to the OSCE/ODIHR and the general public the Working Group’s six-months progress report.

Without wanting to influence the minister’s report, it can safely be anticipated that it will confirm that all the important, meaningful and consequential requests and recommendations that the government has received have been accepted and the necessary legislation passed.

Key measures, such as the law on financing of electoral campaigning, the law on the functioning of the Anti-Corruption Agency, rules that govern political activities by elected officials and civil servants, rules governing access to media during the electoral campaign, rules governing the management of electoral rolls and voting procedures, as well as the rights of voters and domestic and foreign election observers to scrutinise and monitor the elections, have all been adopted and the necessary regulations passed.

The parliamentary threshold has also been reduced from 5% to 3% to ensure representation of a broader range of political parties and guaranteed seats to representatives of ethnic minorities.  Both those measures will reduce the number of seats that the SNS can potentially secure.

With particular regard to fair access to media for candidates and opposition parties, as this was the focus of complaints from the most vociferous opposition leaders, the Regulatory Authority on Electronic Media (REM) will imminently adopt new rules on how public service media must ensure and commercial media should ensure representation without discrimination of all registered political parties, coalitions and candidates in the course of the electoral campaign.

The REM will be mandated to closely monitor the observance of these rules and recommendations by public service and commercial media, and report on a weekly basis on its website open to the public.

The threatened boycott was never about the election process, it has always been about the fear of opposition leaders to honestly and transparently face the electorate.  These self-appointed leaders of the opposition have weaponized the tool of a boycott to seek to delegitimize the April elections and the next government.

They will fail. We are confident that the people of Serbia will see through the calls for an election boycott for what they are. The only meaningful boycott could be a boycott of the elections by the people of Serbia, not by leaders without followers.

On the contrary, an anticipated high voter turnout will validate the election and discredit those who call for a boycott.

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