Serbs continue to protest election outcome

Protest against Vučić election victory. Belgrade, 5 April. [Al-Jazeera/YouTube]

Ten days of protests against Serbia’s election results continued on 13 April, with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić minimising their importance, and the opposition saying that the political system needs changing. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

President-elect Vučić hopes to present the protests as a sign of democratic rule in Serbia, recieving support on Wednesday (12 April) from German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, who visited Belgrade.

Gabriel said that such demonstrations are a part of democracy and that it is important that the protests are peaceful and without state interference.

The main topics of discussion during his visit are Serbia’s integration in the EU, as well as the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, and the reforms needed on that path.

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Serbian President-elect Aleksandar Vučić, who scored a convincing victory in the first round of the election on 2 April, will take his time appointing his successor as prime minister, a position he’s held a firm grip on for three years. reports.

“The election victory is a reason to be happy, but is also a great responsibility for the reform process and further development of relations with Kosovo, which is the necessary condition for the EU to accept Serbia as member,” said Gabriel.

Asked to comment on the protest, Vučić stated that he will continue with his efforts to attract German investors.

”This is the real answer I can offer,” he said.

Protests show the other side of Serbia, as a significant number of citizens are unhappy with the economic and social situation in the country.

While the protests were triggered by the election results on 2 April, in which Premier Vučić was elected in the first round, there were no serious allegations regarding the voting process in itself, even if some irregularities were reported.

There is more criticism regarding the pre-election period, concerning the decision of the regulatory body, REM, not to ensure equal representation of the presidential candidates in broadcast media, and the government’s participation in the election campaign.

On the last point, NGO Transparency Serbia monitored the situation, and, in a statement on 12 April, indicated that the outgoing prime minister, who is also the president-elect, led a very problematic effort, by campaigning from his seat, with the support of members of his government.

According to Transparency Serbia, the problem with this scenario is twofold: it distorts the fair play between the candidates and increases the spending of public money.

This is not a new thing in Serbia, however, with Transparency pointing out that the same practice has been identified in previous electoral campaigns by both Vučić himself, and his political opponents.

EU attacked by Serbian politicians for pro-government bias

Serbian presidential candidates are criticising the EU, blaming it for tolerating the authoritarian leanings of the government’s candidate and current Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, in exchange for stability and concessions over Kosovo. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

This misuse of power explains in part why participants in the current protests refuse any connection with political parties, as many Serbs are disappointed by them in general, and feel that a lot more could have been done for Serbian democracy since the end of the Milošević regime in 2000.

Widespread corruption, for which Serbia is ranked 72nd on the list of 176 countries, behind all EU member states except Bulgaria, is one of the biggest sources of dissatisfaction, combined with the high level of unemployment – 15.9% in 2016 – and a lack of opportunities for young people.

Recently published statistics show that 1 in 4 Serbians is at risk of poverty.

The future of the protests is uncertain, and depend on the motivation of demonstrators. Their demands include the sacking of Electoral Commission members for irregularities, the removal of National Assembly President Maja Gojković for suspending parliament during the election, as well as a change in the management of the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation and the REM regulatory body, for failing to monitor the presence of candidates on TV stations during the campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlović said recently that these requests have nothing to do with the government, as other institutions are in charge, primarily the parliament.

”Ordinary people who participate in the protest don’t know the responsibilities (of the institutions), but it is difficult to believe that the authors of the demands are so ignorant that they don’t know that the government has nothing to to with them,” she said, suggesting that the willingness to contest the results of the elections on the streets might be one of the real reasons for protests.

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