Thursday

7th Jul 2022

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Is Orban holding out an olive branch to EPP?

It is Tibor Navracsics, an ex-EU commissioner and minister without portfolio in Orban's new government, who was reportedly picked to work on closer relations between Fidesz and the European People's Party.

Column

'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements

Some modest headway in recognising the unrelenting tide of discrimination and violence facing women worldwide was made at last week's largely self-congratulatory and mostly irrelevant G7 talk-fest. But no one mentioned abortion, just days after the Roe vs Wade decision.

News in Brief

  1. British PM defiant amid spate of resignations
  2. France says EU fiscal discipline rules 'obsolete'
  3. Russia claims untouchable status due to nuclear arsenal
  4. Catalan MEPs lose EU court case over recognition
  5. 39 arrested in migrant-smuggling dragnet
  6. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  7. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  8. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Is Orban holding out an olive branch to EPP?
  2. EU should freeze all EU funds to Hungary, says study
  3. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  4. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  5. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  6. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  7. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  8. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us