Serbia’s ruling party certain to win first post-COVID elections

A woman wearing a protective face-mask walks past election billboards in Belgrade, Serbia, on 15 June 2020. [ EPA-EFE/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC]

Serbia will hold parliamentary, provincial and local elections on Sunday (June 21), which the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is expected to win hands down, while the biggest opposition bloc plans to boycott the vote, saying it will not be fair and legitimate.

Citizens will be wearing protective masks while casting their ballots, given that the coronavirus epidemic is not over yet and that several dozen new cases are registered on a daily basis.

The Serbian Electoral Commission has accepted a total of 21 tickets for the election of 250 members of the National Assembly. According to opinion polls, only two parties are certain to cross the 3% threshold – the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its coalition partner in the outgoing government.

The threshold was lowered from 5% to 3% ahead of the elections, which were originally called for 26 April and then rescheduled due to the coronavirus epidemic.

After the state of emergency was abolished and President Aleksandar Vučić met with representatives of the parties that had decided to take part in the elections, a new date was set for the polls and the electoral campaign resumed.

Alongside the SNS, which polls suggest might win more than 50%, and the Socialist Party of Serbia (around 12%), the ticket led by New Belgrade municipal chief Aleksandar Šapić, the Movement of Free Citizens, led by actor Sergej Trifunović, and the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party led by Vojislav Šešelj, former Hague tribunal convict, are most likely to win seats in the parliament.

Vučić, who is the president of Serbia and the Serbian Progressive Party, has announced that the vote for a new Serbian parliament will also be organised at 90 polling stations in Kosovo. The former Serbian province declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, which Serbia refused to recognise.

“We will have elections at 90 polling stations in Kosovo on Sunday. We have always managed to get open polling stations in Kosovo for our election, and that will be the case on Sunday as well,” said Vučić.

Opposition boycott

The opposition Alliance for Serbia has led a campaign to boycott the election. Its members believe there are no conditions in place for fair and free elections and are confident that the boycott is the fastest and only way to free elections.

They also say the elections will show who the real opposition is and caution that going to the polls now poses a health risk for citizens.

The head of the EU Delegation in Serbia Sem Fabrizi has said that the boycott was not a good idea. “Elections are an important test for democracy, while politicians must present their political platforms and discuss their vision for the future,” Fabrizi said, adding that “in democracies, there is no other way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction but in elections.”

Even though Serbia is not lagging behind EU member states in terms of women’s participation in government (the prime minister, parliament speaker and more than a third of MPs are women), only one ticket – that of the Serbian Party Oath Keepers (sovereignists, anti-EU) – is led by a woman.

Lukewarm campaign without programmes

The main topics in an otherwise lukewarm campaign are digitalisation, economic growth, infrastructure, the brain drain of youth, migrants, AI, corruption, crime and cronyism.

There is also talk of Kosovo, but mostly without any specific proposals for how to solve the problem, which is crucial for the progress of Serbia’s EU membership bid. Serbia is an EU candidate and has so far opened 18 negotiation chapters and temporarily closed two in the accession process.

Belgrade and Priština have been negotiating a comprehensive agreement for a long time now in a process mediated by Brussels. The recently appointed EU special envoy for the negotiations, Miroslav Lajčak, should give the process a new impetus. He is currently visiting Priština and will be in Belgrade the day after the elections.

In the meantime, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Richard Grenell has scheduled a meeting between Vučić and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, at the White House on 27 June.

Analysts say that no party has put forward a concrete programme and the campaign is mostly based on slogans, promises that cannot be measured, and criticism and insults aimed at political opponents.

Political analyst Cvijetin Milivojević says that “the majority of citizens are voting for an illusion.”

“The citizens are voting for a stereotype that has been imposed as an incontestable truth by the Serbian Progressive Party’s brutal political propaganda. The citizens believe that Vučić is a guarantor of Kosovo’s survival in Serbia, that Vučić will lead us into the EU the fastest, that we will never enter into NATO… They believe that only under Vučić will they have secure pensions,” Milivojević told Beta News Agency.

According to announcements, an ODIHR mission and domestic observers from CRTA, CeSID and the Anti-Corruption Agency will monitor the elections. The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) has applied for observing the elections for the first time.

Also for the first time in Serbia, anonymous exit polls will be conducted, but only in one Belgrade municipality.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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