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A hybrid regime in Serbia: Elections without a shred of uncertainty

June 22nd, 2020
topic:Election
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Serbia
tags:Aleksandar Vučić, democracy, elections, SNS party

Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić decided to hold general elections on 21 June. The opposition believes the long-ruling Vučić's Serbian Progressive Party, SNS is illegally taking advantage of incumbency.

The most of opposition parties chose to boycott the polls, as well as they often have been boycotting the plenary sessions in Serbia's parliament during the last two years. They also called the citizens to stay at home on Sunday and so not to give legitimacy to unfree and fake elections. The dull polls, with the winner already known, the headlines read. And it is not only due to limited political competition.

"In light of unbalanced media coverage, undue pressure on individuals and civil society critical of the current government, we believe that the elections in such an environment will be far from fair and democratic", the Renew Europe group form the European Parliament wrote to the Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi.

EXPELLED FROM THE LIST OF DEMOCRACIES

According to Freedom House Nations in Transit report, Serbia is classified as a hybrid regime. For the first time since 2003, it is no longer in the group of democracies. Nominally, the government both aspires to the European Union and supports US President Donald Trump. In reality, it is deeply influenced by authoritarian powers like Russia, China, and Turkey.

"Since coming to power in 2012, the ruling SNS has systematically curtailed the ability of the opposition to play a role in the business of governing. From 2016 to 2018, it only put bills proposed by friendly lawmakers on the legislative agenda; in 2019, it entertained just two proposals from outside its ranks before voting them down. To limit oversight of its own proposals, the SNS shuts the opposition out of committees and floods the docket with frivolous amendments that eat into the time allotted for debate. It also forces the adoption of laws via the urgent procedure, a process that is only supposed to be invoked in extraordinary situations. More than half of laws adopted in Serbia last year were approved under urgent procedure", the report reads.

DIVIDE ET IMPERA

Vučić was rocked by spontaneous protests in late 2018 sparked by a brutal physical attack on opposition leader Borko Stefanović. The "One of 5 Million" movement against violence in politics had organized the antigovernment demonstrations weekly ever since. However, they faded from tens of thousands at their height in February last year to barely a few hundred in the eve of COVID-19 pandemic. The energy of the protests was undermined once political parties asserted leadership over them.

Having opposition parties mainly in disarray, Vučić additionally fostered divisions among them lowering the vote threshold for parties to enter the assembly from five to three per cent in February this year. While the opposition core remained consistent with the idea of a boycott, some small, nominally opposition parties decided to enter the race. For them, it is now or never.

ONE MAN SHOW

Vučić ran this election campaign almost alone – although he even was not the candidate. Experts agree it is because the people around him are producing the corruption scandals for years, and it is better not to expose them to gain support from citizens. With covering up their massive wrongdoings, Vučić keeps them loyal. He privatized both the state and his political party, blurring the distinction between state and party activities again. He enticed the voters through welfare initiatives. Every adult citizen could get 100 Euro (the overage salary is five as much) to help them during the pandemic. Suddenly, the populistic measure was changed in a way to humiliate people, especially those who not support him – only pensioners will automatically receive the money. The other adult citizens will have to ask for the amount by phone.

A Serbian lawyer Rodoljub Šabić these days reminded the Serbian citizens of the Kukulovce case. This village has no asphalt roads, no public lighting, no sewerage system, no children playground. He promised all these facilities and got 95,67 per cent of votes in previous elections, but up until now, nothing happens. When they said they would boycott the vote, the director of a state-owned road company appeared instantly and announced the constructing starts the day after. "And now, you are going to vote", the director warned them – which is an criminal act according to the law.

"This move by the authorities is difficult to understand. Kukulovce is a small village, only seventy houses, barely over 200 voters. Any election result in the village is certainly irrelevant not only for the parliamentary but for the local elections as well. And yet, to provide what the government wants, it does not restrain even from committing crimes", Šabić wrote in an article published three days before the election.

The OSCE reported the ruling Progressives established the system of widespread pressure on voters, particularly those employed in the public sector, to support Vučić and secure, in a cascade fashion, support from subordinate employees, family members, and friends. In the same time, the opposition's supporters face repercussions for their political activities, including dismissals and changes of employment conditions.

This month the unknown man in the presence of a police officer confiscated the phone of investigative journalist Bojana Pavlović after she took photos of Vučić's 22-year-old son Danilo with a person who has a criminal record. The police did not intervene immediately.

Earlier this month Serbia's Regulatory Body for Electronic Media banned the controversial promotional video showing Vučić and a six-year-old girl talking about his party plans. The public furiously reacted to misusing the children in the political purpose. However, Vučić himself used the case to prove the press freedom exists since the state-owned body made a decision against himself.

The Youth Initiatives for Human Rights (YIHR) warned not only the law in Serbia doesn't ban war criminals from taking part in the elections, but the ruling parties have glorified convicted war criminals. Some of them are on three out of 21 electoral lists.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Serbia
Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić decided to hold general elections on 21 June.
The ruling parties in Serbia have glorified convicted war criminals. Some of them are on three out of 21 electoral lists.
In reality, Serbia is deeply influenced by authoritarian powers like Russia, China, and Turkey.
The June 21 elections were unlikely to bring about any surprises to the political make-up of Serbia .