The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. In the context of the upcoming presidential elections, parliamentary and local elections for the City of Belgrade and 12 towns and municipalities, scheduled for 3 April 2022, IFIMES made an analysis of the current situation in Serbia. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2022 Elections in Serbia: Yet another attempt of ‘assassination of Serbia’?”
In the Republic of Serbia, regular presidential elections, extraordinary parliamentary elections and regular local elections for the capital of Belgrade and 12 towns and municipalities are scheduled to take place on 3 April 2022.
At the parliamentary elections, according to the proportionate system, 250 representatives of the people will be elected for the Republic of Serbia National Assembly. Around 6.6 million registered voters are entitled to vote. On Kosovo, which Serbia still considers its autonomous province, pursuant to its current Constitution, the parliamentary elections will be held with the assistance of the international community and in the areas where the Serbs live. It should not be forgotten that the Serbs have entered Kosovo institutions under the condition that they be allowed to vote on Kosovo at all elections organized in Serbia. If the Kosovo Serbs are not allowed to vote at elections organized in Serbia, Serb political representatives could withdraw from Kosovo institutions or Serbs could decide not to participate at the next elections on Kosovo.
According to the current Election Law, the Republic of Serbia constitutes one electoral unit. The parliamentary mandates are distributed proportionately to the number of votes won. For political parties of ethnic minority do not pass the election threshold of 3%, the so-called “natural threshold” will be applied. The “natural threshold” is calculated by dividing the number of valid votes with the number of representatives, that is 250, for each position in the parliament, which depending on the turnout at the election varies between 12,000 and 16,000 votes.
Majority of opposition in Serbia had not participated at the last parliamentary elections and therefore could not have participated in the parliamentary life, including the decision-making process or monitoring of the work of the government and acting as a corrective to the government. Therefore, the work of the opposition reminded more of the work of nongovernmental organizations than of engagement of political parties. The conduct of opposition parties created deep disappointment among citizens, who expect from their respective political parties to actively participate in the political life and represent their interests.
The heterogeneous political opposition in Serbia did not create the synergy effect, which would have been generated had the opposition parties managed to interconnect and unite. Namely, these parties are ideology-wise diametrically opposite political parties headed mainly by leaders who already have a political history and many of they still have “political mortgage” from their previous political engagements.
Analysts believe that the Serb opposition should have learned from the mistakes of the Bulgarian opposition, which was aware that the ideological differences among them were too big, so they participated at the elections in “a number of columns” and with new faces with no previous “political mortgages”. As a result, they were successful in their third attempt and at the third extraordinary elections toppled Bojko Borisov's (GERB) regime.
Serbia recently marked the 218th anniversary of the beginning of First Serbian Uprising in 1804, which was a turning point in the creation of a modern Serbian state and the adoption of the so-called Sretenje Constitution (1835), which was very liberal and progressive for its time.
However, the XX century was tragic for the Serbs and Serbia. The tremendous sufferings in World War I and World War II and the tragic dissolution of former Yugoslavia left traumatic consequences.
The first democratically elected and assassinated Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić said in this context, inter alia, the following: “the issue of a better tomorrow is always raised. I would like the people to start believing that tomorrow can be better than today. My philosophy of the Serbian history is that we wasted the entire XX century, and I am sure that the XXI century can be the century of our achievements.”
In 2000, with the arrival of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić to power Serbia initiated strong democratization and numerous reforms, which resulted in progress in all areas. Serbia became the epicenter of developments in the region and the leader in reforms. This historic progress was interrupted with the assassination of Prime Minister Đinđić on 12 March 2003.
After the arrival of Aleksandar Vučić and his Serb Progressive Party (SNS) to power, Serbia has once again become the epicenter of developments in the region and the engine of European integration. Significant economic results and accelerated progress on the path to EU membership have been recorded. Serbian President Vučić, together with Macedonian and Albanian prime ministers launched the most important regional initiative “Open Balkan”, which promotes regional cooperation and offers opportunities for economic prosperity of the region. Serbia has managed to maintain at the annual level a high level of foreign investments. Specifically, foreign investments in Serbia are at the level of around four billion Euros per year, which is more than in all other countries in the region together. It transpired that for Serbia the XXI century has become the century of opportunities and achievements. Throughout the history, whenever Serbia begun to move forward speedily, there were always attempts to slow down or halt its progress. A testimony of this from the recent history is the assassination of Zoran Đinđić, which was also a kind of “assassination of Serbia.”
According to analysts, Serbia has successfully repositioned and rebranded itself in regional and international relations, primarily thanks to the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who has managed to turn Serbia from an object into a subject in international relations. This is most evident through the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina in which Vučić managed to impose the “they cannot get everything, while we get nothing” paradigm. Subsequently, the US took the stance that the Brussels and Washington agreements have to be fully implemented - with an emphasis on the establishment of the “Community of Serb Municipalities” (ZSO). The letter that US congressmen had recently sent to US President Joseph Biden is a major recognition and support to Serbia, as well as the confirmation of the rightfulness of the policy Aleksandar Vučić has pursued so far. The letter refers to Serbian achievements in the area of economy, as well as the initiative the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had launched with several other regional leaders related to creation of “Open Balkan”, as a zone of free trade and free movement of people, goods, capital and services, which was described as a new paradigm of the Serbian policy.
The death threats recently made to President Vučić should be taken extremely seriously because of the experiences from the recent past and the assassination of Prime Minister Đinđić. Furthermore, such an “assassination of Serbia” must be stopped once and for all. In this context, the role of the Serb opposition is important. However, the opposition has still not made a clear and quality contribution to development of democracy, as the opposition in Bulgaria recently had.
In the current constellation of political relations, the current President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić is by far in the most difficult position. Although Serbia, the region and the world are in a period of the corona crisis and security tensions and threats, Serbia and its President have proven themselves as a factor of peace and stability. It is important to finalize the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina with the signing of a comprehensive and legally binding agreement so that Serbia would have a prosperous and predictable future. In this respect, the most important task include economic recovery, development of the state and affirmation of Serbia in regional and international relations, as well as stopping the trend of emigration of population from Serbia and increasing the birthrate. In practice, there are constant attempts to undermine President Vučić and his government through joint actions that even include individuals from the Serb Progressive Party (SNS), who act in conjunction with a part of the foreign factor.
Analysts believe that because of the decision on declaration of military neutrality, Serbia and its President Vučić are under intensive international pressure to recognize independence of Kosovo, align the Serbian foreign policy with the EU, and particularly to introduce sanctions to Russia. The concept of Serbian foreign policy is founded on the EU - US – China - Russia + Nonalignment Movement rectangle. It is incomprehensible that the EU requests from Serbia to subject its foreign policy to the EU, while there are no guarantees that it will ever become an EU member.
After arduous negotiations, the government and the opposition have managed to agree on the conditions and create an ambience for holding of free and fair elections. The opposition predominantly insisted on media representation and control of the election process. Political practice has shown that presence in the media is not of key importance for winning the elections. The most important element is to offer quality political programs, as well as credible and competent candidates who have the trust of citizens. At the last elections, the opposition made a mistake by boycotting the elections and/or focusing in its political “fights” on Aleksandar Vučić personally, while not offering any quality political programs and candidates who can convince the citizens to trust them and vote for them.
According to the public opinion polls the list of the Serb Progressive Party “Aleksandar Vučić – Together we can do everything” stands by far the biggest chances at the parliamentary elections. Due to the lowering of the election threshold to 3%, smaller political parties and parties of ethnic minorities also stand a chance to win mandates in the Republic of Serbia National Assembly. As for the presidential elections, the favorite is the current President Aleksandar Vučić, while the competition at the local elections and elections in the city of Belgrade will be most uncertain. It is expected that the turnout at the elections will be above 50%. For the future of parliamentary democracy in Serbia, it is important that in the coming period there is a strong and proactive opposition as a corrective of the government, which has not been the case so far- particularly because of the boycott by a part of the opposition. Furthermore, it is also important that the government and the opposition take a common and single stance on issues of national interest.
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Belgrade, 22 February 2022
 IFIMES – The 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.