Serbia’s predictable election
On April 2nd, Aleksandar Vučić won Serbia’s presidential election. Ever since, dozens of people have been gathering in Serbian towns to oppose the government’s alleged authoritarian turn, electoral fraud and the strict control over mass media.
Vučić, who is also the country’s prime minister (it is still unclear who will replace him) and the leader of the Progressive Party, collected 55 per cent of the votes. Sasa Jankovic, his main opponent, garnered 16.3 per cent, while Luka Maksimovic (the real name of the satirical candidate Ljubisa Preletacevic) polled 9.4 per cent. As Vučić stated following the vote count, his victory was “clear as a tear”.
Vučić’s success was welcomed by both German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who urged Serbia to continue with the set of reforms that are intended to lead the country to EU accession, and by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who openly supported Vučić and his government.
As the Russian president stated: “This shows the direction in which Serbia wants to go. It has been important for this victory to be crystal clear to prevent anyone from making a random interpretation of the difference that has been made.”
Vučić’s policies have often been characterised by his will to maintain good ties with both the EU and Serbia’s long-time allies: Russia and China. The president has stressed that the strengthening of ties with these two countries does not present any obstacle on the path to EU accession.
As a result, the role of Vučić as a promoter and facilitator of stability in the whole region has been recognised on the international level and Serbia’s new president has enjoyed the endorsement of top EU officials including Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker.
At the same time, however, the victory can mark the beginning of an authoritarian turn in Serbian politics, as the ministers may end up answering directly to Vučić. As both president of the republic and the leader of the ruling political party, Vučić will be able to bypass the parliament, paving the way for constitutional changes strengthening his grip on power.
The election results, therefore, sparked lots of criticism. The first series of protests began immediately after the April 2nd vote, and were organised through a Facebook event page called “Protest Against Dictatorship”. Demonstrations were held in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, Cacak, Kragujevac, Bor, and Novi Pazar. The protests were peaceful and did not originate with any political party; their main focus was Vučić’s alleged electoral fraud and the tight control he has imposed on the media, a possible cause of the biased coverage of the electoral campaign.
One of the main election irregularities the protesters emphasised were the alleged 800,000 “ghost names” on the electoral lists. Moreover, the electoral campaign conducted through the national media had allowed more time for Vučić than other candidates, as noted by the Journalism School of Novi Sad.
The opposition to Vučić consists of diverse and discontented groups. Some sang “Bandiera Rossa,” others “No Pasaran,” while some protesters held flags with the Russian eagle.
In its coverage of the protests, Serbian media were accused of bias in favour of the new president and playing down the size of the demonstrations. Initially, 80,000 people were said to have attended the protests, however, the Informer, a tabloid close to the government, reported that only a “couple thousand” participated.
After Jankovic, Vučić’s challenger, voiced concerns about election results in 25 constituencies, Serbia’s electoral commission held a recount of some votes. According to Jankovic’s team there were irregularities in 24 out of the 25 polling stations that translated into more votes assigned to Vučić than he actually gathered.
Protests have been on the rise since election day and are now also embracing social and civic demands such as decentralisation of powers, direct elections for local government, the protection of certain rights like pensions and livable wages and changes to labour laws.
But the protests are likely to bring little result. In fact, the victory of Vučić has been a symptom of the inability of the opposition to provide any alternative to the ruling party.
Antonio Scancariello holds an MA in journalism from De Montfort University, UK.