Four members of parliament have gone on hunger strike in Serbia. Two opposition MPs are protesting over Kosovo, while two others from the ruling party are taking a stand because they are dissatisfied with the opposition’s behaviour.
It all began in the middle of a National Assembly session on 10 May, when MPs debated and then adopted amendments to a set of laws on parliamentary and local elections, and disease controls, all in order for elections to be held on 21 June.
The first to go on hunger strike was independent MP Miladin Ševarlić, a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and an anti-GMO campaigner, because he had not managed to initiate a parliamentary debate on violations of Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and disregard for the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo.
Ševarlić said after a night spent outside the parliament that Kosovo was the most important issue for Serbia. On Monday (11 May) he announced the possibility of ending his strike because both the authorities and the opposition had “plagiarised” him.
The leader of the right-wing Dveri movement, Boško Obradović, joined Ševarlić on Sunday, to support his older colleague and demand that parliament hold a debate on Kosovo, and also in protest at the idea of holding elections during the coronavirus epidemic.
Obradović explained on Twitter that he was primarily motivated by the wish to preserve Kosovo within Serbia. “Also because of violations of the Constitution, the collapse of democracy and postponement of the elections,” he wrote.
Then MPs of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, Aleksandar Martinović and Sandra Božić, left the session to stage their own strike, demanding that “the prosecutor’s office react” to the outbursts of Dveri leader Boško Obradović.
Martinović said today that it was “time for the prosecutor’s office to react, to do its job and to launch a prosecutorial investigation against Obradović and his mentor Dragan Đilas”, president of the opposition Party of Freedom and Justice.
Serbian Parliament Speaker Maja Gojković said on Monday she was seriously concerned about the health of Ševarlić, Martinović and Božić, who have been on a hunger strike for the past two days. She hinted that Obradović had not observed the hunger strike during the night.
The rule amendments are meant to enable the election process to resume even amid the virus outbreak, by allowing the verification of signatures of support to be done not only at the offices of notaries public, but also in municipal and city administration units.
General, provincial and local elections in Serbia will be held on 21 June. The opposition is demanding that the polls be delayed at least until the autumn.
The elections were called in early March and were to be held on 26 April but the electoral process and the campaign were suspended with the declaration of a state of emergency due to the pandemic.
Long before the elections, a portion of the opposition gathered in the Alliance for Serbia, despite Brussels’ mediation of a dialogue between the parties in Serbia (with Knut Fleckenstein, Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilčik as the mediators), decided not to take part in the elections because of a lack of fair conditions.
In the meantime the Alliance for Serbia has somewhat crumbled – the Dveri leader is still in favour of a boycott, while Social Democratic Party leader and former Serbian President Boris Tadić proposed participation in the elections with a ticket called Boycott, which would be followed by a boycott of the parliament.
The Movement of Free Citizens, which had previously favoured the boycott idea, has now decided to participate in the elections even though the conditions are not fair but are in fact, as the movement’s leader Sergej Trifunović put it, six times worse. Trifunović also pointed out that elections under President Aleksandar Vučić would never be fair.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljević and Sam Morgan]