Serbian elections: amid accusations and irregularities, Vučić’s party claims victory

In the aftermath of the recent Serbian elections, accusations of irregularities and a contentious political atmosphere have dominated the discourse.

Aleksandar Vučić has been a dominant force in Serbian politics for the past decade, initially as the prime minister and later as the president. While supporters view him as a practical leader who has overseen economic growth and bridged divides within Serbia, critics argue that he has concentrated power in his hands, eroding democratic norms.

Currently in his second and final presidential term, Vučić recently announced early parliamentary and local elections amid both domestic protests and international pressure to address Serbia’s longstanding conflict with Kosovo. The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which Vučić led for over a decade, appears poised to return to power.

 

Aleksandar Vučić

Aleksandar Vučić, born in Belgrade in 1970 during the era of Yugoslavia, has been a prominent figure in Serbian politics. His family’s history involves leaving Bosnia due to persecution by Croatian fascists during World War II. Vučić lived in the UK in the 1980s, where he learned English and worked in a hardware store to afford a small radio for his family.

The breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s led to the Balkans wars, and Vučić, influenced by Serbian ultra-nationalism, joined the far-right Radical Party at the age of 23. Known for his controversial statements, he became the information minister under Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 1998, implementing restrictive laws on freedom of speech.

After the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Vučić, and his colleagues were out of power. In 2008, he co-founded the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), transforming ultra-nationalism to advocating for Serbian entry into the European Union. Vučić,’s political ascent was rapid, culminating in his presidency in 2017.

Critics argue that Vučić has consolidated power by undermining democratic institutions, echoing the authoritarianism of the 1990s. They claim that Serbia is moving away from EU ideals. However, supporters attribute Serbia’s economic growth and stability to Vučić’s governance, emphasizing his successful reforms.

Vučić’s management of relations with Kosovo and efforts to balance ties with the EU, Russia, and China are notable. Despite his desire for EU membership, he has maintained close relations with Russia, resisting EU sanctions against Moscow. Accusations of facilitating the re-export of sanctioned technology to Russia have also been levelled against his government.

 

Pre-election stats

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić, while not running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, remains the central figure in his party’s campaign. Despite officially stepping down as the party’s leader, Vučić’s influence over Serbian politics has persisted for a decade. The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is capitalizing on his image, presenting a vote for the party as a vote for Vučić.

The opposition, united under the banner of “Serbia Against Violence,” emerged from protests following mass shootings in May. They contend that a culture of violence, propagated by Vučić and the SNS, led to the killings. The opposition faces an uphill battle against the well-established SNS, which boasts a robust party machine and benefits from friendly media.

Accusations of “state capture” and a lack of media pluralism have been levied against the SNS. However, the ruling party dismisses these claims, asserting that the elections are fair and open to the opposition. Vučić,’s numerous televised addresses this year and the government’s decision to hold early elections are points of contention.

The Progressives’ prolonged dominance is attributed in part to the absence of a credible alternative. The Democratic Party splintered after losing power in 2012, leaving a fragmented opposition that favoured the SNS. Serbia Against Violence presents a more cohesive alternative, but its victory on a national level seems challenging.

While the Green-Left Front, a coalition member, operates on a more grassroots level, its impact may be limited compared to the Progressives’ sophisticated campaign. Despite challenges, the opposition believes in the potential for change, particularly in local elections such as those in Belgrade.

The SNS emphasizes stability and economic improvements, suggesting that this parliamentary election might be the last until 2027. As Serbia heads to the polls, the political landscape remains dynamic, with the ruling party seeking to maintain its stronghold and the opposition aspiring to offer a viable alternative.

 

Election results

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has declared victory in the snap parliamentary elections, stating that his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is on track for an absolute majority. The SNS reportedly secured 47% of the vote based on a near-final count, potentially winning over half of the 250 seats in the National Assembly.

Opposition parties aligned under the Serbia Against Violence (SPN) coalition trailed behind with approximately 23% of the vote. Allegations of electoral fraud favouring the government were raised by the SPN, prompting them to call for a protest on Monday evening.

Apart from the parliamentary vote, Serbians also determined control over 65 local authorities. The SPN alliance had aimed to gain control of Belgrade in the local elections, formed in response to two mass shootings in May that triggered significant protests. Despite the SPN’s aspirations, preliminary results indicated a slight lead for Vučić’s party in the capital.

According to the CeSID and Ipsos pollsters, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) emerged victorious with 38.9% of the vote, while the Serbia Against Violence (SPN) coalition secured 34.6%. The nationalist NADA coalition claimed the third position with 6% of the vote.

These results highlight a competitive electoral landscape in Belgrade, with the SNS and SPN being the main contenders. The outcome suggests that the SNS maintained a lead over the SPN in the local election, and the nationalist NADA coalition also garnered a notable share of the votes.

Local elections often provide insights into the political dynamics within specific regions, and the results can influence the broader political landscape. The close competition between the SNS and SPN indicates a divided electorate, reflecting the diverse political preferences within Belgrade.

 

Accusations of election marring

The recent vote in Serbia, particularly the local election in Belgrade, has been marred by accusations of irregularities. The International Election Observation Mission reported “serious irregularities, including vote-buying and ballot box stuffing.” Despite the Serbian Progressive Party’s (SNS) continuous hold on power since 2012, there have been three elections in the past three years, contributing to a contentious political atmosphere.

Opposition figures have accused the SNS of utilizing public resources for political purposes, and the election monitor CRTA expressed concerns about a “chronic lack of pluralism” in Serbia before the vote. National turnout was estimated at 59.1%, reflecting a significant portion of the population participating in the electoral process.

Local observers documented various irregularities, including reports of voters being transported from Bosnia-Herzegovina to vote in Belgrade. The CRTA observer mission provided details about attempted ballot-rigging in several polling stations.

Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership, faces pressure from both the EU and the U.S. to normalize relations with Kosovo. Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by over 100 UN members. However, Serbia, supported by allies like Russia, China, and some EU members, has refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence.

Notably, around 95,000 ethnic Serbs reside in Kosovo, and those wishing to vote had to cross into Serbia to cast their ballots. The complex geopolitical and ethnic considerations further contribute to the intricacies of the electoral landscape in Serbia.

The international mission to Serbia involved 361 observers from 45 countries, including 254 experts from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) based in Warsaw. The presence of such a substantial number of international observers highlights the importance placed on ensuring fair and transparent electoral processes in Serbia.

The treatment of journalists and the alleged attacks on media highlight broader concerns about the state of democratic institutions, freedom of the press, and the overall political environment in Serbia. These issues are critical in assessing the health of a democratic society and its adherence to principles of openness, accountability, and respect for diverse perspectives. The observations and findings of international missions play a crucial role in assessing the fairness and legitimacy of electoral processes.