The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the current situation in Serbia which has entered scheduled for 2 April 2017. The most interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Serbia: The election marked by Aleksandar Vučić”are published below.
The Republic of Serbia has entered the final part of the campaign for regular presidential election which is scheduled for 2 April 2017. According to the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) the total number of registered voters as at 17 March 2017 was 6,724,172.
Altogether 11 candidates will run in the presidential election: 1. Saša Janković nominated by a group of citizens For a Serbia Without Fear; 2. Vuk Jeremić, a presidential nominee put forward by another group of citizens We Need to Do Better; 3. Miroslav Parović of the People's Libertarian Movement; 4. Saša Radulović nominated by the Enough is Enough Movement 5. Luka Maksimović, a candidate supported by a group of citizens Ljubiša Preletačević Beli, Hit It Hard; 6. Aleksandar Vučić nominated by the ruling coalition Aleksandar Vučić – Serbian Progressive Party, Ivica Dačić – Socialist Party of Serbia, Rasim Ljajić – Social Democratic Party of Serbia, Dragan Marković Palma – United Serbia, Milan Krkobabić – Party of United Pensioners of Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin – Socialist Movement, Vuk Drašković – Serbian Renewal Movement, Bogolјub Karić –Serbian Strength Movement (BK), Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség-Pásztor István - Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians; 7. Boško Obradović of the Dveri Movement; 8. Dr. Vojislav Šešelј nominated by the Serb Radical Party; 9. Dr. Aleksandar Popović of the Democratic Party of Serbia; (DSS) 10. Milan Stamatović supported by a group of citizens For a Healthier Serbia – Milan Stamatović; 11. Nenad Čanak nominated by the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina.
2012 presidential election in Serbia was won by Tomislav Nikolić from Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Before taking over the presidential office Nikolić appointed Aleksandar Vučić as SNS leader. Unlike Boris Tadić who unconstitutionally introduced a (semi) presidential system in Serbia, Nikolič resigned from the position of party leader, thus realigning the function of president of the Republic with the Constitution. . As a failure of Nikolić's term of office as president it was stated that he could have made a better contribution to regional cooperation and that he had never officially visited Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina which are Serbia's two most important neighbouring countries.
Since 2012 Serbia's political scene is dominated by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader Aleksandar Vučić.
The election campaign has been marked by Serbian incumbent Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić who is the presidential candidate of the coalition led by SNS. This has been expected, bearing in mind that Vučić is the head of the leading political party in Serbia and Prime Minister at the same time.
Vučić's election campaign is targeted at winning already the first round of the presidential race. To that end he has gathered a broad coalition of political parties with varying programmes. Winning the first round would represent his political supremacy and at the same time SNS's domination in Serbia's political scene.
A large number of candidates running at the forthcoming presidential election are a clear sign that this election will represent a turning point in redesigning the political parquet. Besides Vučić a noticeable candidate is Serbia's former Ombdusman Saša Janković who is trying to gather a broader range of sympathisers with an emphasis on the intelligentsia. Another visible candidate is former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić who represents a kind of recidivism from Tadić's regime. His programme is based on criticism against the current government, especially Aleksandar Vučić, and deals with many areas that are not controlled by Serbia's President but mostly fall within the competence of the Government. The candidate Vojislav Šešelj is running presidential election for the ninth time, all this time managing to preserve a part of the electorate with his strong anti-Western sentiment and promotion of co-operation with Russia. The only other candidate that will trigger any attention at the forthcoming election is Luka Maksimović Beli with his very specific election campaign aimed at animating a part of the electorate and expressing revolt against Serbia's politics. He represents a fresh wind on Serbia's political scene, but nothing more than that.
The European Union (EU) is paying close attention to events in Serbia, especially as regards the fulfilment of its obligations towards the EU. The gravity of the situation in Serbia and its present government is best illustrated by the European Parliament Resolution on Serbia (2011/2886(RSP)) which was adopted at the EP plenary session in Strasbourg on 29 March 2012 and which still has not been fully implemented.
Basically, the Resolution was very critical towards former Tadić’s authorities in Belgrade. In paragraph 18 of the Resolution the European Parliament expressed concerns regarding repeated charges based on Article 359 of the Criminal Code on the abuse of official position, which were accompanied by widespread unjustified freezes of company and private assets.
In paragraph 19 EP called on the Serbian authorities to review immediately the controversial privatisation and sale of 24 companies, as the European Commission has expressed serious doubts concerning their legality, including those of the companies “Mobtel”, “Sartid”, “Jugoremedija”, “C market” and “ATP Vojvodina”, and to declassify immediately documents regarding their privatisation and sale, which were classified as State Secret contrary to European standards. In this respect the European Commission drew attention to the utmost importance of compiling a thorough and complete record of public property in order to provide a secure and predictable business environment, ensure restitution of private property and prevent illegal acquisition of public assets by private interests. Private property is sacred and inviolable in any modern European constitutional state. Special attention is paid to Mobtel which was illegally sold for the value that exceeds the total of all other privatisation transactions in Serbia.
The disputable sale of Mobtel revealed the involvement of Boris Tadić and Mlađan Dinkić, their Austrian partner Martin Schlaff, former EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner,former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Hubert Gorbach and many others. In September 2011 Austrian Parliament appointed the investigation committee in order to investigate all the illegitimacies in connection to the sale of Mobtel. The investigation into this case is also carried out by the Austrian Public Prosecutor's Office. After the appointment of the parliamentary investigation committee, former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel resigned immediately from the position of Member of the Austrian Federal Parliament. The current presidential candidate Vuk Jeremić is also suspected of having ties with Martin Schlaff, which opens the question of non-transparent financing of his extremely expensive election campaign.
For the first time in the territory of the EU and its candidate states there has been a case of illegal withdrawal of licence from the company Mobtel which is in Bogoljub Karić's majority ownership. Serbia's Former Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica proclaimed Bogoljub Karić to be a traitor since he allegedly used Mobtel mobile services for spying on the Serbian Government on behalf of the Kosovo Government, which was a typical political construct. Based on this accusation Serbian Government withdrew Mobtel's licence and illegally sold the company. At the same time the repressive authorities sent a police cordon in civilian clothes and balaclavas to take over the company, apprehend the management and shut down the popular BK television channel. The government still has not rectified the injustice caused to Mobtel and BK television has still not regained its licence (or national frequency).
The EU therefore still insists on the rule of law and protection of private property and investments. Any state that does not respect these principles cannot become the EU member. The former government of Vojislav Koštunica severely violated the valid laws in order to get rid of their political opponent Bogoljub Karić and his Strength of Serbia Movement (PSS) which (together with other parties) defeated Koštunica government and the leading coalition at the election. EU still monitors the events related to Mobtel and BKTV.
The“Western Balkans 6” summit was held recently in Sarajevo which brought together the prime ministers of six Western Balkan states, EU high officials and the Italian Foreign Affairs Minister. A few years ago EU abolished the visa regime for the West Balkan states. For more than two decades the visa regime had represented EU's unjust policy and a punishment of all the citizens of the Western Balkans, bearing in mind that the EU is founded among other on the principles of free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are the two countries that still have a very strict mutual visa regime in place. The question is why the prime ministers of six Western Balkan states, especially Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, did not use their influence on Serbian representatives in Bosnian-Herzegovinian institutions to abolish the visa regime for Kosovo citizens and on Kosovo institutions to abolish the visa regime for Bosnian-Herzegovinian citizens? This would certainly contribute to regional stability and cooperation. No words were spoken about this issue at the Sarajevo summit, although the visa abolishment would bring benefits to all ethnic communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and serve as an example of regional cooperation. However, with such a strict visa regime between two states it is difficult to talk about true cooperation between them.
Analysts believe that Aleksandar Vučić made a significant contribution to regional cooperation, but at the same time note that certain individuals from his circles very often cause destabilisation in the region due to their conflicting nature. Vučić will probably suffer the consequences of their behaviour, since he will have to pay the final bill for their actions.
The situation in the region is marked by rivalry between Serbian and Albanian politicians. Vučić has managed to diminish the role of Croatia as a regional actor and this has triggered frustrations on the side of Croats, which they are trying to compensate with further activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the ideas of the third entity, presenting Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats as the only or even exclusive promoters of European values, which does not reflect the reality. Croatia often misuses its membership in the EU and partly also in NATO in order to realise its interests in the region. It will probably intensify its activities towards Bosnia and Herzegovina after the arbitration on the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute is concluded and the judgement is passed on the appeal proceedings of the so called Croatian Six before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (HDZ) will have to take the helm of the state more decisively, since certain centres of power are leading the country without his knowledge and control.
The continuation of the Brussels dialogue between Belgrade and Priština will remain one of EU's priorities. Jeremić and Tadić take most credit for passing the negotiations on Kosovo from the UN to the EU level in 2010, whereby the SB 1244 (1999) resolution was annulled and EU and the West became agents in the dialogue.
The relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain a test for Vučić. It should be noted that about 1.5 million Serbian citizens are of Bosnian-Herzegovinian origin and they represent a significant share of the electorate. The relationship with Montenegro and its Serbian community which became even more sensitive after the failed coup d' état will have to be transparent, open and based on mutual trust.
A large number of candidates running for the presidential election are the indicator of fragmented opposition. If the opposition managed to agree on one common candidate, they would have a much more serious opponent for Aleksandar Vučić, who stated that it was the opposition that forced him to run as candidate for the president of Serbia. The higly fragmented opposition actually necessitates the election of the new opposition leader, and such leader will be elected at the forthcoming election. It is expected that after the election Janković and Jeremić will establish new political parties. Changes in the party scene will shake up one part of the existing political parties in Serbia.
The forthcoming presidential election in Serbia will be the first election since the fall of Slobodan Milošević with no OSCE observers, since due to a very short notice OSCE did not have enough time to organise its observers. It is therefore of great importance that the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM) monitors the election campaign and enables equal representation of candidates in the media, which has already been the subject of criticism from the opposition. Moreover, the churches, especially the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the religious communities should return into the constitutional framework of secularism, which has been undermined in Serbia for some time.
Serbia has a significant geopolitical position with a large number of neighbouring states. This also represents a special responsibility for Serbia. In the long run Serbia will not be able to sustain it foreign policy based on the EU-Russia-USA-China quadrangle and the Non-Aligned Movement, but will have to clearly define its foreign political and strategic priorities.
The key test for foreign policy will be the future status of Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre in Niš. Russia demands that Serbia grants the diplomatic status or immunity to Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Centre and its employees. Analysts have noted that granting the diplomatic immunity would in fact represent the enactment of the first Russian military base in the territory of Serbia, since it is generally known that the Centre is also used as the base for Russian military intervention in Syria.
The IFIMES International Institute believes that after the presidential election Aleksandar Vučić will face a challenging task of selecting the right person for the prime minister position and ensuring the economic prosperity and wellbeing for Serbian citizens, in which it will be of great importance to continue strategic partnership with Germany. Another key task will be to stop the emigration trend in Serbia and to ensure harmonious ethnic relations both within Serbia and between the countries in the region. In order to achieve all that Vučić will have to distance himself from certain politicians inside and outside Serbia and who are undermining his as well as Serbia's image. It will be of key importance to ensure the general consensus on the future of Serbia and the region. The election of Vučić as Serbian President triggers the expectations of a new epoch in the future of Serbia and the countries in the region. Vučić is facing large expectations and if he wishes to keep the role of the leader in the region, he will have to make some important steps to prevent another new regional leader take over his position. The case of Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE) in Macedonia is an illustrative and instructive example for all politicians on how not to lead a state.
Ljubljana, 28 March 2017