Extraordinary elections in Serbia 2023: Bid to restore tycoons' rule in Serbia?

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly conducts analyses of events spanning the Middle East, the Balkans, and global affairs. IFIMES analyses the current situation regarding the culmination of the electoral campaign for the extraordinary parliamentary elections in Serbia, extraordinary provincial elections in Vojvodina, and extraordinary local elections for the city of Belgrade and 65 other local self-governments in Serbia on 17 December 2023. From the analysis titled “Extraordinary elections in Serbia 2023: Bid to restore tycoons' rule in Serbia?” we present the most important and interesting excerpts.

Extraordinary elections in Serbia 2023:


Bid to restore tycoons' rule in Serbia?


Extraordinary parliamentary elections in Serbia, extraordinary elections for the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and extraordinary local elections for the capital city of Belgrade and an additional 65 local self-governments will take place on 17 December 2023. According to analysts, these elections are considered the most important since 2012.

Utilizing a proportional system, 250 Members of Parliament are to be elected to the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The right to vote is extended to 6,500,165 registered voters across more than 8,300 polling stations.

There are 18 electoral lists participating in the extraordinary elections for the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The frontrunner is the electoral list aligned with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), campaigning under the slogan “Aleksandar Vučić - Serbia Must Not Stop.” Leading the opposition political bloc is the electoral list “Serbia Against Violence.” It is anticipated that the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) will maintain its status as a parliamentary party. Political parties representing minority communities will have their representatives in the Parliament, as they are exempt from the 'natural threshold' of 3%. Several other electoral lists have the chance to enter the parliament due to the low electoral threshold, set at only 3%, contingent upon voter turnout.

The International Institute IFIMES recently published an analysis of the pre-election events in Serbia entitled “Extraordinary Elections in Serbia 2023: Domestic and foreign factors vying for influence.” The analysis is available at: https://www.ifimes.org/en/researches/extraordinary-elections-in-serbia-2023-domestic-and-foreign-factors-vying-for-influence/5244

Belgrade and Kragujevac in the spotlight of local elections

Local elections will have a distinct character, as coalitions at the local level differ from those at the national level. The elections that garner the greatest public attention are the ones for council members in the Assemblies of the cities of Belgrade and Kragujevac.

Nevertheless, local elections in the capital city, Belgrade, will serve as a litmus test for both the ruling party and the opposition, the latter attempting to project a level of support far exceeding reality. The opposition has coalesced around a grievous event—the tragic killing of students at the “Vladislav Ribnikar” Primary School in Belgrade on 3 May 2023. Societal violence is a global phenomenon and is not unique to Serbia. Countries in the region also grapple with various forms of violence in society, and Serbia is no exception. Some opposition parties seek to leverage this issue to seize power, a move not met with public approval, as the attempt to (mis)use a tragedy for political purposes is frowned upon.

The elections for the city of Belgrade, as the administrative, political, and cultural centre of Serbia, hold particular significance, because Belgrade is one of the most rapidly developing European capitals, attracting an increasingly numerous foreign population. The budget for the city of Belgrade for the year 2023 amounts to 190.9 billion dinars (1.6 billion euros), while the budget for the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina is 108.7 billion dinars (929 million euros). Therefore, Belgrade has nearly double the financial resources at its disposal compared to the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.

In the local elections in Belgrade, citizens elect 110 council members for the City Assembly. The SNS's list for the Belgrade elections is named after the President of the country and the recently resigned president of the SNS, who is not participating in the elections, titled “Aleksandar Vučić – Belgrade Must Not Stop.” The mayor holds the executive power in Belgrade, with a term lasting four years. The mayor is not directly elected but is voted on by the council members. The party that secures a majority in the City Assembly proposes its candidate. This candidate must be on the electoral list, meaning they come from the ranks of the elected council members.

Analysts believe that the local elections in Belgrade, with 14 lists participating, will witness a close competition between the ruling Serbian Progressive Party with the electoral list “Aleksandar Vučić – Belgrade Must Not Stop” and the opposition parties led by the electoral list "Serbia Against Violence."

The utopian approach of the opposition

The ideologically diverse political opposition in Serbia lacks the necessary synergy and is largely influenced by various centres of power and/or serves as an exponent of foreign interests and capital. Additionally, many opposition leaders already have a political history with frequent changes in party affiliations, and many carry the baggage of their previous political engagements.

The modus operandi of the opposition more closely resembles the activities of non-governmental organizations rather than the operations of serious political parties.

Serbia is facing substantial international pressure to recognize the independence of Kosovo. President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) is, for the time being, resisting these pressures.

Analysts argue that a segment of the Serbian opposition is not fully aware of the gravity of the situation and the country's position. Some opposition leaders, employing populist proclamations and a 'utopian' approach such as “Let everyone prosper after 17 December,” are essentially misleading citizens, as they fail to offer concrete solutions to the problems and challenges facing Serbia. Meanwhile, a faction of the opposition envisions Serbia as a NATO member and is willing to acknowledge Kosovo's independence, enjoying robust support from certain Western countries.

The risk of 'militarization' of the Kosovo issue

The situation in Kosovo cannot be normalized through the deployment of special units of the Kosovo Police (ROSU). Instead, normalization must be pursued through the development of democracy and the integration of minority communities into Kosovar society to ensure peace and security. The authorities in Pristina are resorting to the use of force, which further exacerbates tensions and complicates the situation.

Without the implementation of the 2013 Brussels Agreement and a successful dialogue on the normalization of relations between official Belgrade and Pristina, progress remains elusive. U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, stated: “First of all, what is on the table, of course, is not recognition. What is there is normalization. And I think the situation needs to be normalized. People in northern Kosovo need to wake up in the morning knowing what their lives are going to look like. There must be the capacity for people to travel wherever they want. There needs to be a greater understanding of all these issues.[2]

Analysts contend that the delay in implementing the Brussels Agreement and establishing the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) poses a tangible risk of the 'militarization' and radicalization of the Kosovo issue. Such developments could lead to the emergence of a new hotspot, triggering chain reactions in the region. Kosovo is progressively becoming a security concern rather than solely a political matter. The insistence on the recognition of Kosovo by official Belgrade is likened to a hypothetical situation where official Beijing would be pressured to recognize Taiwan.

Aleksandar Vučić in the most challenging position

Serbia has successfully repositioned and rebranded itself in regional and international relations, thanks to the efforts and policies of President Aleksandar Vučić. He has transformed Serbia from an object to a subject in international affairs, evident in the dialogue on the normalization of relations between official Belgrade and Pristina, where Vučić has managed to impose the paradigm of 'they can't get everything, while we get nothing.'

Serbia plays a pivotal role in fostering peace and stability in the Balkans. President Vučić recognizes the imperative to conclude the dialogue on normalizing relations between official Belgrade and Pristina, a prerequisite for securing prosperity and a stable future for Serbia. Key objectives encompass achieving economic prosperity, advancing state development, enhancing Serbia's international standing, and addressing the challenge of population migration—an area where Serbia has already demonstrated notable success. There are evident attempts to undermine Vučić and his administration coming from individuals within the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in collaboration with foreign actors.

Serbia and its President, Vučić, face intense international pressure to recognize the independence of Kosovo and align Serbia's foreign policy with the EU, with a particular emphasis on imposing sanctions on Russia. Serbia's foreign policy concept is anchored in a quadrilateral engagement with the EU, the United States, China, and Russia, along with participation in the Non-Aligned Movement. The EU demands that Serbia adhere to or align its foreign policy with the EU, without providing a guaranteed timeline or assurance of eventual EU membership in return. Efforts should be directed towards building and strengthening trust between Serbia and the EU, with the EU demonstrating greater sensitivity to Serbia's position and articulating clearer intentions regarding potential EU membership. 

Tycoons in an attempt to regain dominance in Serbia

Until 2012, tycoons played a crucial role in Serbia. With the ascent of Aleksandar Vučić and the Serbian Progressive Party, they lost their influence. By estimations, the wealth held by just a handful of major business figures (tycoons) was measured in billions of euros. In 2009, ten Serbian tycoons collectively held around 30% of Serbia's GDP, amounting to nearly 10 billion euros. One of them, Miroslav Mišković, reached the peak of his power in 2008, securing a leading position as one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Balkans. During that era, tycoons thrived while Serbia regressed. This trend shifted from 2012 onward.

Analysts contend that a faction of opposition political parties in Serbia is funded by tycoons, while another segment secures financing from foreign centres of power. Through such means, they seek to regain lost influence and reclaim dominion over Serbia. Substantial resources are at their disposal for this endeavour, united by a shared interest in overthrowing Aleksandar Vučić from power.

The most important elections since 2012

It is vital to ensure the legality, regularity, and transparency of the electoral process and create an environment for conducting fair and honest elections. There are indications that upcoming election losers may contest the election results. It is important for political entities to demonstrate a high level of political maturity and responsibility and renounce violence as a means to address grievances.

The opposition has raised the most objections to insufficient media representation and control of the electoral process. Experience has shown that media presence is not crucial for winning elections. The most important factor lies in presenting high-quality political programs and credible, competent candidates who enjoy the trust of citizens. The opposition has once again made the same mistake by focusing its political efforts on Aleksandar Vučić personally, without offering sufficiently solid political programs and competent, uncompromised candidates capable of convincing citizens to entrust them with their votes.

According to public opinion surveys, the electoral list of the Serbian Progressive Party, “Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia Must Not Stop,” commands a convincing lead in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The primary opposition electoral list is "Serbia Against Violence." With the electoral threshold reduced to 3%, both smaller political parties and those representing minority communities have the opportunity to secure parliamentary mandates in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. It is anticipated that voter turnout will surpass 50%, bestowing greater democratic legitimacy upon the forthcoming elected officials. A robust and proactive opposition, serving as a corrective force to the government, is an integral part of the democratic landscape, which has not been the case in Serbia so far. When it comes to issues of national interest, it is crucial for both the ruling party and the opposition to adopt a common and unified stance and pursue a responsible state policy.

Ljubljana/Washington/Bruxelles/Beograd/Pristina, 10 December 2023     

[1] IFIMES - International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN in New York since 2018, and it is the publisher of the international scientific journal »European Perspectives

[2] Hill for Euronews Serbia: Recognition of Kosovo is not on the table, but rather normalization of relations. Available at: https://www.euronews.rs/srbija/politika/107427/hil-za-euronews-srbija-na-stolu-nije-priznanje-kosova-vec-normalizacija-odnosa/vest