Friday

19th Apr 2019

Serbia PM wins crushing election victory

  • "I know where we need to go, but the road there won’t be covered by rose petals," Vucic said after his party's victory. (Photo: Reuters)

The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) led by prime minister Aleksandar Vucic emerged as a clear winner in a parliamentary election on Sunday (24 April).

Preliminary counts gave the party some 50 percent of the votes and close to two-thirds of national assembly seats.

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This is an improvement over the 2014 election result, when the progressives fell short of absolute majority and were forced into coalition with the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS).

The SPS, led by foreign affairs ministers Ivica Dacic, got roughly same proportion of the vote - about 12 percent - as two years ago.

The party of ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, who was recently acquitted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, came third with 8 percent and will return to parliament after four years' absence.

Prime minister Vucic used to be Seselj’s right-hand-man, and all three leaders were once allies of Slobodan Milosevic, the man who is widely blamed for starting the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 90s. Milosevic died 10 years ago in a detention cell in The Hague during his war crimes trial.

Vucic has since renounced Milosevic’s nationalist policies and reinvented himself as a staunchly pro-European reformist leader, and so has Dacic, who was a spokesman for Milosevic’s Socialists through much of the 90s, but went into coalition with Vucic in 2012.

Seselj, however, remained unrepentant, and still pursues his goal of creating a Greater Serbia by reclaiming the breakaway province of Kosovo and carving out much territory from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

His acquittal by The Hague war crimes tribunal gave impetus to the radicals, but with less than 10 percent of parliamentary seats, he is expected to remain a marginal political force.

The moderate Democratic Party, which was the main engine of massive protests that toppled Milosevic in 2000, got only 6 percent, barely getting over the threshold for representation.

“We’re essentially back where we were in the 90s, fighting alone against an authoritarian regime,” said Democratic Party leader Bojan Pajtic, who blamed his party’s poor result on Vucic’s control of main media outlets and vote-rigging.

Local and international observers, however, claim that that the elections were mostly fair, although they agree the media coverage was biased towards Vucic.

'Enormous responsibility'

By reaching the 50 percent mark, Vucic has consolidated his grip on power.

Serbia’s election system favours the winner by awarding additional seats to the party that takes most votes. The progressives' result will translate into about 150 out of 250 seats which. If Vucic continues in coalition with the socialists, he will be able to change the constitution.

“It is dangerous to have so much power concentrated in one man’s hands,” said Dragoljub Zarkovic, editor-in-chief of the liberal weekly Vreme. He noted that Vucic was prone to strong rule despite his pro-European stance.

In his first post-election speech, Vucic said: “This is an enormous responsibility. I know where we need to go, but the road there won’t be covered by rose petals.”

He gave no indication of his immediate plans and refused to say whether he would renew the coalition with Dacic.

Serbia has one of the poorest economies in the Western Balkans, and the average monthly income of €351 is the lowest in the region.

Massive layoffs in the bloated public sector are expected, adding many thousands to the army of jobless – the current unemployment rate is around 25 percent, according to the World Bank.

Many believe that painful cuts imposed by Serbia’s creditors - the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank - are the primary reason why Vucic called an election halfway through his first term, before the electorate begins to feel the pain.

EU reform hopes

Meanwhile, the EU is relieved that pro-Russian parties such as Seselj’s radicals got relatively few votes despite increasing pro-Russian propaganda in the media.

The EU-facilitated normalisation talks between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2007, are expected to continue.

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurtz, a personal friend of Vucic, was the first foreign politician to congratulate him.

"Congrats to @SerbianPM on his electoral victory, looking forward to further collaboration. Hope for rapid progress on Serbia’s European path," he wrote on Twitter while the votes were still being counted on Sunday.

He was followed by the EU’s enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who said in a series of tweets that "the citizens' strong support" for Vucic would "strengthen Serbia's EU path" and that "a strong government [could] drive the reforms that are necessary and good for the future of the country, its economy and its citizens".

David McAllister, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia, came to the progressives' Belgrade headquarters on Sunday night. “I want to see what victory looks like”, he told reporters.

Analysis

Blast from the past haunts Serbia’s PM

The surprise acquittal of notorious warmonger Vojislav Seselj spoils Serbia's prime minister Aleksandar Vucic’s chances of winning this month's parliamentary election.

Opinion

Serbia election: EU grasping at straws

The Macedonia crisis showed what happens when EU pupils turn autocrats. The elections in Serbia do not rule out the same scenario for the Serb PM.

War crimes law poisons Serbia accession talks

Croatia wants its neighbour to scrap a law on universal juridiction in the former Yugoslavia. The request is delaying the opening of a new chapter of negotiations.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

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