2020 Elections in Serbia: Serbia needs a strong government and continuation of initiated reforms



International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES made an analysis of the current political situation in Serbia with respect to the upcoming regular parliamentary, provincial and local elections, which are due to take place on 21 June 2020.We bring the most interesting excerpts from a comprehensive analysis titled “2020 Elections in Serbia: Serbia needs a strong government and continuation of initiated reforms”.

2020 Elections in Serbia:

 

 Serbia needs a strong government and continuation of initiated reforms

 

At the upcoming elections, 250 deputies of the Republic of Serbia National Assembly (Parliament) will be elected under proportional representation system. The total number of eligible registered voters in Serbia is 6,583,665. At Kosovo, which Serbia according to its current Constitution still perceives as its autonomous province, the parliamentary elections will take place in the areas were the Serb community lives.

 

According to the positive Election Law, which was adopted in 2000 and modified in 2004, the Republic of Serbia is a single constituency. Representative seats are allocated proportionally to the number of votes obtained. Modifications of the previous law were primarily related to the political parties of ethnic minorities with respect to distribution of mandates. Namely, if they do not meet the electoral threshold, which is for the first time 3% at these elections, and was 5% in the past, the “natural threshold” will be applied. The “natural threshold” is determined by dividing the number of valid votes by 250 members of parliament for each seat, which represents, depending on the turnout, from 12.000 to 16.000 votes.

 

The 2020 parliamentary elections will include 21 election lists, while the 2016 parliamentary elections included 20 election lists.

 

The Republic Election Commission of the Republic of Serbia has validated the following election lists: ● Aleksandar Vučić – For our Children● Ivica Dačić – “Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), United  (JS) – Dragan Marković Palma”● Dr Vojislav Šešelj – Serbian Radical Party ● Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség-Pásztor István – Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians – Ištvan Pastor ● Aleksandar Šapić – Victory for Serbia ●  For Kingdom of Serbia (Movement for the Restoration of the Kingdom of Serbia, Monarchist Front) - Žika Gojković ● United democratic Serbia (Vojvodina Front, Serbia 21, League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Party of Modern Serbia, Civic Democratic Forum, DSHV, Democratic Bloc, Together for Vojvodina, Union of Romanians of Serbia, Vojvodina’s Party, Montenegrin Party)● Academician Muamer Zukorlić – Straight Ahead - Justice and Reconciliation Party (SPP) – Democratic Party of Macedonians (DPM) ● BROOM 2020 ● Milan Stamatović – May the Health Win – Dragan Jovanović – Better Serbia – Healthy Serbia ● SDA Sandžak – Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin ● Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski – Serbian Party Oathkeepers● People’s bloc – Velimir Ilić – General Momir Stojanović ● Sergej Trifunović – Movement of Free Citizens ● The Souverainists● “Albanian Democratic Alternative - United Valley” (Alternativa demokratike Shqiptare – Lugina e bashkuar) ● Group of Citizens: 1 of 5 million ● May the Masks Fall – Green Party – New Party  ● Russian Party – Slobodan Nikolić ● Čedomir Jovanović – Coalition for Peace (Liberal Democratic Party, Tolerance of Serbia, Bosniak Civil Party, Party of Montenegrins, Vlach National Party (Partia neamului rumânesc), Liberal Democratic Movement of Vojvodina, Association of Yugoslavs in Serbia, Action Network of Associations and Roma Organizations (AMARO), Association of Citizens "Romanians of Homolje", Skaska)  ● Leviathan Movement, I live for Serbia.

 

According to the public opinion polls the “Aleksandar Vučić – Four our Children” enjoys a significant advantage. As a result of the lowering of the election threshold to 3%, the smaller political parties and ethnic minority parties also have a chance to win a mandate in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The results of pre-election polls indicate that the turnout will be above 50% and that victory of the “Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) –Four our Children” at the elections can be expected.

 

Analysts believe it is important, for the future of parliamentary democracy in Serbia that in the coming period Serbia has a strong and active opposition which would be a correction factor for the government, which has not been the case so far, particularly due to the boycott of the work of the parliament by a part of the opposition.

 

Finalization of dialogue between official Belgrade and Priština

 

Finalization of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština will be one of the priorities of the new Government of the Republic of Serbia. The special envoy of the US President Donald Trump for finalization of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština, Ambassador Richard Grenell, has already achieved significant successes.  Specifically, the brokering of the agreement on reestablishment of air-traffic between Belgrade and Priština and the agreement on construction of a highway that would connect Belgrade and Priština.

 

A new Kosovo Government was recently established in Priština. One of the tasks of the Government will be to implement the future binding agreement that will be signed.

 

According to analysts, it will be of key importance for Serbia to establish, after the parliamentary election, a strong Government that will have a general social consensus to finalize the dialogue with Priština, to face the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and to continue the initiated reforms. The finalization of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština will resolve the centuries-long Albanian-Serbian dispute and open a new era in the relations between these two most numerous peoples in the region. Resolution of the Serbian-Albanian relations will be a good starting point to later regulate other unresolved issues in the region as well, including the issue of relations between Serbs and Bosniaks, two peoples that share the same living space.  The opposition will have a particularly important role in this context. In collaboration with the authorities it will have to achieve a consensus on key national issues. That is why the boycott of elections by a part of the opposition is an aggravating threat to fulfillment of key national interests and undermines the current geopolitical position of Serbia, which is a result of additional external pressures in response to Serbia’s declaration of military neutrality.

 

The dialogue is taking place at the time of a presidential election campaign in the US,  in a situation in which Kosovo has lifted the taxes it had unilaterally imposed on the import of goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Serbia, and at the time when the Montenegrin authorities are giving in to the protests and are forced to offer a possibility of suspending the Law on Freedom of Religion until the Montenegrin Constitutional Court and the European Court on Human Rights render their decisions on the dispute Law. The US administration wants to achieve a foreign-policy success in the eve of presidential elections and will insist on finalization of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština with the signing of a legally binding agreement.

 

Analysts also believe that the continuation of the dialogue between the official Belgrade and Priština, due to take place on 27 June 2020 in Washington, will be a sign of relaxation of relations not just between Belgrade and Priština, but in the entire region as well. Although Serbia and Kosovo lose the most with the prolongation of the dialogue, the entire region is awaiting the finalization of the dialogue and signing of a legally binding agreement. This is of major importance, because the historical Prespa Agreement between North Macedonia and Greece has yielded positive results, and the finalization of the dialogue would give a new impetus to positive processes in the region and, finally, lead to resolution of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

The “Mini Schengen” project is a bold and visionary idea of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, and according to assessments of analysts the most important project since the collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This project would evoke optimism and instill hope that a better and more successful future can be ensured in the region.  The implementation of the “Mini Schengen” project would contribute to homogenization of the European area and facilitate practical implementation of the concept of European freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services. This would render Balkan nationalisms senseless, and at the same time strengthen the European Union which is impotent in the face of the pressures from Russia, China and Turkey and does not decisively counter the populists that collaborate with the forces whose only goal is to destroy European unity.  A part of factors in Europe and the world oppose this initiative because it is in their interest that Balkan permanently remains an unstable region where there will never be reconciliation and cooperation among neighbors, true Europeization, long-term economic progress, stability, peace or prosperity for young and educated people, which are required for fulfillment of the ultimate goal of membership of all West Balkan countries in the European Union. Finally, the “Mini Schengen” project could lead to prosperity of all the countries in the region after almost 30 years of disputes, tensions, conflicts and stagnation.

 

According to analysts, Serbia enters the dialogue strengthened, as after the elections Vučić will have the support of more than 50% of the electorate, while, at the same time, on Kosovo there is no general social consensus on the dialogue.  These is a disproportion in the strengths of the sides in the dialogue. Kosovo made a mistake when it yielded the position of the chief negotiator with Serbia to Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, who is simultaneously the chief negotiator with Serbia and the prime war crimes suspect.

 

Increasing pressure due to military neutrality

 

Serbia is still at a turning point at which it needs to decide whether it will continue with the rapid progress towards membership in the EU and implement the initiated reforms, which will give tangible results in the future, or step back in the period in which the state was ruled by the tycoons.

 

Although Serbia signed an agreement with NATO in 2016, some countries still harbor suspicions about the geopolitical orientation of Serbia and some other countries in the region and express skepticism that these countries can change their geopolitical orientation. That is why it is important to work more in the future on further building and development of trust between Serbia and the West, as it can become a victim of additional mistrust of Western allies towards Serbia and its policy. However, it is also important that Montenegro and Croatia are not the proponents of building of that trust because of the traditionally negative stance of the Serbian public on the policies of these countries towards Serbia.

 

Although Serbia increasingly speaks about its military neutrality, on the other side it has expanded its premises at NATO HQ and strengthened the cooperation. As North Macedonia has recently become a NATO member, while Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria had joined NATO earlier, the militarily neutral Serbia is now surrounded with NATO member countries. There is also Kosovo, with NATO forces and a large military base on its territory. According to military experts, military neutrality is a unicum of Serbia.

 

Democratic Party is a victim of opposition showdowns

 

The Democratic Party (DS), as one of the oldest and most important political parties in Serbia, has experienced a complete collapse and become the biggest victim of the showdowns and conflicts within the opposition ranks. Although majority of today’s opposition parties and their leaders have “sprung up” from the Democratic Party, they have built their political standing and new political careers on destruction of the Democratic Party.

 

Analysts believe that the Democratic Party should have become the center of gathering of the opposition in Serbia, instead of having individuals who had originated from the Democratic Party do everything possible to make the party become insignificant and an undistinguishable part of the political scene. The internal turmoil in the Democratic Party contributed to that and further marginalized it.

 

A significant part of the opposition in Serbia has inflicted enormous damage to the civic protests, which have a tradition in Serbia, because in one phase the opposition parties “took ownership” of the civic gatherings by signing the so-called Agreement with the people,  as a result of what the civic protests and gatherings lost their true meaning and value.  

 

Elections for new opposition leader

 

Fragmentation of the opposition after the parliamentary elections will subsequently lead to aggregation of the opposition and election of the new opposition leader. Majority of opposition leaders are already known to the public at large, and many of them have checkered history.

 

In fact, because of the current fragmentation of the opposition the upcoming elections will promote the new leader of the opposition, a new face, who will not carry the burden of his/her political history. Restructuring of the political party landscape will follow and it will shake up a part of the already existing parties on the political scene of Serbia.

 

Importance of peace and stability

 

The parliamentary elections in Serbia will be an important test for the security-intelligence system of the country. Some political subjects, in collaboration with the foreign factor, have already used violence as a political means. Hence, one cannot exclude the possibility of eruption of violence and unrests shortly before the elections.

 

Analysts believe that Serbia is the key country in the region for preservation of stability and peace, and that it is therefore necessary to prevent the possibility of breakout of violence at the end of the election campaign or causing of unrests on the election day itself, which would be aimed at declaring the elections illegitimate and illegal, and thus invalid. Namely, this would constitute an attempt to dispute the results of the elections and destabilize Serbia.

 

A smaller part of circles in Serbia in combination with a part of the foreign factor would like to see destabilization of Serbia, in order to push Serbia and the West Balkans 30 years backwards and not have Serbia turn towards progress and further improve its economic indicators. Namely, Serbia has the best indicators in the region with respect to the level of foreign investments, relatively low public debt, low unemployment rate, accelerated growth of salaries and high annual economic growth rate, which has the potential to be additionally increased in the coming period.

 

Ljubljana/Belgrade, 19 June 2020 

 

Footnotes:                                                                                           

[1]IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia,has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.