On the 21st of July, Serbian citizens have been asked to express their political preferences for the new government. Amidst Covid-19 emergency, Serbia resulted in being the first country in Europe to hold elections. Initially planned for April, the event was organised immediately after the suspension of a strict lockdown. What came out from it did not really surprised media nor the international community: Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić publicly declared a landslide victory for his right-wing party. Notwithstanding the fulfilled predictions, the results do not escape from sinister controversies.
The dominant Serbian Progressive Party (SNS – Srpska Napredna Stranka) won around 62 percent of the total votes, therefore gained 191 parliamentary seats out of 250. The remaining ones are split among the few opposition parties that managed to reach the 3 percent of threshold and those constituted by ethnic minority parties. More specifically, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS – Socijalistička partija Srbije) with United Serbia (JS – Jedinstvena Srbija) gained 32 seats; the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS – Srpski patriotski savez) 11; the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ – Savez vojvođanskih Mađara) 10. Justice and Reconciliation Party with the Democratic Party of Macedonians, the Party for Democratic Actions and the Party for Democratic Actions of Sandžak gained 2 seats each. In this way, the situation leaves no space in the parliament for opposition forces and results in the autonomous power of only one party. How could this happen?
The answer lays the foundation on an eradicated lack of trust towards the government by the political components themselves. As a matter of fact, already some months ago, the coalition of opposition parties decided to boycott the elections due to Vučić’s control on media and the whole electoral processes. In their opinion, the steps taken by the government have been undermining the validity of the elections as well as the freedom for citizens to access information and to develop autonomous and impartial political perspectives. In addition to this, they argue that elections during the Covid-19 emergency represent both a health hazard and a limitation to citizens. For all these reasons, opposition parties invited people not to go to polls.
However, the final purposes of the coalition have not been reached. Their original intentions were mainly two: sending a strong warning message in regards to the actual non-democratic status of the country and to prevent people from voting, thus trying to ensure only a little percentage of people performing the right to vote for, consequently, demonstrate the invalidity invalidity of the act. Even if the strategy was pretty linear and structured, it represented an own goal. Opposition parties boycotting the vote started declaring that only less than half of the electorate turned out at the polls, and for this reason the whole process is invalid. However, there is no appealable law establishing a minimum number of voters required to make elections valid.
Controversies did not end there: Serbian-based NGOs observing the parliamentary elections, CRTA and CESID, reported various irregularities in the process. In the town of Pozarevac and Zrenjanin, so-called “Bulgaria train” acts were reported. To make it clearer, the term refers to when a person is bribed to submit a pre-prepared ballot paper and then collect a second one from the polling station which they return black to the person who paid them. Other wrongdoings concerning secrecy were reported in other eleven polling stations. In Kula, party members kept track of who had voted. In another village in south Serbia ballot boxes were stolen overnight. In Gorazdevac, people who were not registered to vote casted ballots for others who had died but were still on the voting lists. And finally, in Vranje a member of a conservative party was detained on suspicion of having threatened the president of the polling board.
With the de facto suspension of parliamentary activities and the derogation of the European Convention on Human Rights – which includes political rights as well as the freedom of expression – Serbian authoritarian drift has not emerged only in relation to the actual medical emergency. Only in May, Freedom House’s declared that Serbia cannot be identified as a democracy anymore due to the lack of liberal fundamental pillars. For this reason, the institute declassified the country as a hybrid regime, jointly with Hungary and Montenegro. However, for the moment it does not seem too problematic for the international community. Apart from some weak admonitions, the Serbian authoritarian backslide does not seem to develop severe repercussions on an external level. Especially with the European Union: Serbia has been opening chapters for the EU membership for six years now and demonstrations of strong interests continue to be shown from both parties even if the Union values have experienced extreme decay in Serbia. Will this start to further legitimate autocratic attitudes also in other European countries?
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