Live(ish) Blogs and Updates: Serbia’s Elections 2016

Greetings to our friends and readers from Serbia and around the world.

Serbia goes to the polls on April 24th in what will be the country’s third round of early elections in less than three years. We aim to provide you with occasional updates about the imminent vote. As usual, we invite our readers and contributors from across the political spectrum to submit their thoughts, photos, questions, comments and tips to our editor at lynch.lily@gmail.com or on Twitter @balkanist.

Thank you/Спасибо/Faleminderit/Hvala from Serbia!


30 April, 2016: Citing widespread electoral fraud, the opposition will hold a protest in front of the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) in Belgrade today at 13h.

30 April, 2016: Insajder.net has released a video about Dejan Djurdjevic, the head of the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK). Djurdjevic is an SNS official who “wears two hats”, in contravention of the party’s own rule against the “multiplication of functions”. SNS reappointed him to oversee RIK before the elections.

29 April, 2016: News of an ever greater number of alleged electoral regularities has emerged over the past two days. The Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) announced that DSS/Dveri have fallen one vote short of passing the census to enter parliament. Meanwhile, Krik.rs has published an extensive list of alleged electoral irregularities.

SNS announced that they were filing a criminal complaint against opposition leaders Bojan Pajtic (DS), Sanda Raskovic-Ivic (DSS), Bosko Obradovic (Dveri) and Sasa Radulovic (DJB), who the ruling party accuses of “attempts to manipulate the election process, exert unprecedented pressure on RIK (state electoral commission), and enter parliament (win parliament seats) by force.” SNS official Aleksandar Martinovic made the announcement at a press conference Friday.

Martinovic also said that SNS “will not allow unrest and a repeat of what happened on October 5, 2000”, a reference to the mass opposition protests that brought down Slobodan Milosevic. “What’s supposed to happen now, a civil war, a repeat of October 5, the scenario from Kiev?”

27 April, 2016: A pre-election poll on voters’ ages and education levels:

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26 April, 2016: The website for CeSID, Serbia’s Center for Free Elections and Democracy, an organization that deals with election monitoring, is down as of Tuesday afternoon.

26 April, 2016: The OSCE has released a preliminary report, which includes some concerns about the overall conduct of the campaign and Sunday’s vote. Elections observers noted that:

Fundamental freedoms were respected and candidates were able to campaign freely. However, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and, to a lesser extent, the Socialist Party of Serbia, increased their participation at official events during the electoral campaign, taking undue advantage of incumbency and blurring the distinction between state and party activities, at odds with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards. Widespread reports of the ruling parties exerting pressure on voters, particularly those employed in the public sector, and enticing voters through welfare initiatives raised concerns about the ability of voters to cast their vote freely, as provided for by OSCE commitments.

26 April, 2016: When the first election results were announced by the Serbian media Sunday night, SNS was initially said to have received upwards of 56% of the vote: a massive win and dramatic increase over their landslide victory in 2014. Those numbers have changed significantly since. According to the still shifting and contested numbers, SNS received just 48.2% of the vote, representing a loss of 27 seats in parliament from the 2014 elections. Read an excellent analysis by Tena Prelec for the LSE European Politics and Policy blog for more.

24 April, 2016: Early results from CeSID show the ruling Progressive Party winning much bigger than last time: 56% this year vs. 48.35% in 2014. Vojislav Šešelj’s Radical Party also looks to have definitely reentered parliament.

24 April, 2016: Early reports indicate that more than 55% of people eligible to vote cast a ballot today. That’s more than in 2014, when voter turnout was 53.09%.

24 April, 2016: 43.5% voter turnout as of 17h in Serbia nationwide. Belgrade has the lowest voter turnout so far at 39.5%. – LL

24 April, 2016: Voter turnout as of 17h is 43.5%.  via

24 April, 2016: The View from Mitrovica 

Serbs are also casting their ballots in Mitrovica today, in a vote overseen by OSCE election monitors. Journalist Julia Druelle is there and reports that the SNS press officer present complained that people were unable to vote there due to “incorrect lists”. When asked whose mistake it was he said he didn’t know, but blamed the OSCE for not allowing his security staff to help. She also says that mayor Goran Rakić’s SNS security staff is milling around the polling station “claiming they want to help people willing to vote and who can’t find themselves on the lists.”

 

 

 

24 April, 2016: Early Elections and the Future of the Serbian Progressive Party

Why is Serbia holding early elections today?

The media in both Serbia and the west report that SNS called early elections so Vučić could “ask Serbian voters for four more years in power to pursue European Union membership”. But the OSCE Election Observation Mission to Serbia is fairly confident that this isn’t the full truth. An interim OSCE report published on April 15 reads:

These will be the third parliamentary election in six years and the second consecutive elections to be called before the end of the parliament’s mandate. While the government justified this move by the need to renew its mandate to complete reforms and allow the country to be ready to join the European Union, most OSCE/ODIHR LEOM interlocutors claimed that it had been timed conveniently for the ruling coalition to consolidate its power.

There are a number of plausible reasons why SNS wants to consolidate its power just two years after the last early election. One is that the most powerful political party in Serbia has seen its popularity peak, and we’ll begin to see some of its fortunes decline soon. While SNS will easily win today’s elections, the party faces a much more challenging presidential election next year which it may very well lose. A Factor Plus poll publicized last month revealed that President Tomislav Nikolić of SNS had a popular approval rating of just 26 percent. Despite the largely symbolic nature of the role of president in Serbia, losing the election and the office would be a major blow to SNS. — LL

 

23 April, 2016: The Definitive Guide to Serbian Election Swag

When Serbia last held elections in 2014, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) distributed packages of SNS-branded flour, cooking oil and laundry detergent to potential voters. That made some sense, and perhaps makes even more sense now. Serbia ended 2015 with the lowest average monthly salary of all the countries in the former Yugoslavia: 361 euros. In such relentlessly grim economic times, the provision of basic household staples can be a godsend, and also communicates to the electorate that you are a party in touch with their everyday needs.

Not so much this year. Send us photos of your stuff if you got anything good! — LLCgVqIWGVAAIyJBK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 April, 2016: The Return of Far-right, pro-Russian Parties to Parliament?

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The latest polls indicate that following Sunday’s vote, far-right pro-Russian parties are likely to re-enter the Serbian parliament again after more than two years outside the halls of power.

The March 2014 elections appeared to have rendered the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Dveri politically irrelevant. DSS received just 4.2 of the vote, while Dveri netted a disappointing 3.6, falling short of the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament. Now DSS and Dveri are running as a pre-election coalition and are polling at between 5.5 and 6.3 percent.

DSS and Dveri reportedly receive funding directly from Russia.

SRS, headed by the Hannibal Lecter-like Vojislav Šešelj who was just acquitted on war crimes charges by the ICTY last month, is also making a political comeback. SRS failed to pass the five percent threshold in the last elections. Now the party is polling at between 8.2 and 9.8 percent.

What accounts for the renewed support for far-right, pro-Russian parties in Serbia? Šešelj’s release from the Hague has meant the return of a major political personality to the national stage. In February, President Tomislav Nikolić of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) signed an unpopular agreement that grants freedom of movement and immunity to all members of NATO. Several weekends of angry anti-NATO protests followed in cities across Serbia, where placards printed with Vladimir Putin’s face figured prominently.

The west has lauded Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić of the ruling Progressive Party for his efforts to stymy “Russian meddling” in Serbia. But the Progressive Party itself is deeply divided on Russia. A decree signed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko banning 388 people named as representing an “actual or potential threat to national interests, national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” in September of last year included Progressive Party member Vladimir Djukanović. Djukanović serves on the Progressive Party’s main board. He and another member of the ruling party, Branislav Blazić, reportedly traveled to Donetsk in 2014 to observe elections held by pro-Russian separatists.

Still, Vučić has mostly managed to control the pro-Russian elements within his own party. Russophiles in SNS tend to be those members close to President Nikolić, and almost all of them have been removed from prominent positions in the party. Vučić even managed to get rid of Nikolić’s son Radomir, who held one of the last remaining posts of any major importance to be occupied by someone close to Nikolić within SNS. In order to unseat Radomir from his position as president of the party’s main board, Vučić created a new rule preventing party members from holding a “duplication of functions”. Radomir was subsequently appointed mayor of his hometown of Kragujevac and relieved of his “function” as president of the party’s main board.

A prominent political analyst told Balkanist that Vučić also controls his former SRS mentor Šešelj, despite the fact that Šešelj is officially an opposition figure. Šešelj’s SRS has been permitted to hold a series of well attended rallies in the very center of Belgrade. Supporters have set off flares and blocked traffic. Such protests could not have taken place without the consent of Vučić’s government. (Other public gatherings, like a planned Srebrenica commemoration last summer, have simply been banned by the interior ministry).

Since SRS and DSS/Dveri are competing for the same right-wing nationalist voters, the Vučić -controlled SRS will syphon votes away from the “true” opposition and Russian-backed DSS/Dveri coalition on Sunday, allowing Vučić to further reduce Russian influence and please the west, while exerting ever more control over the entire stage-managed puppet theater of Serbian politics. — LL


 

23 April, 2016: The Latest Poll Numbers

 

                                                                  New Serbian Political Thought:                             Propozitiv

 

Progressive Party                                                        44.8                                                                   50.6


Socialist Party                                                               12.7                                                                    11.4


Radical Party                                                                  9.8                                                                      8.2


Democratic Party                                                         7.5                                                                     4.9


Social Democratic Party/

Liberal Democratic Party/

League of Social Dems of Vojvodina                6.9                                                                       6.9


Dveri/DSS                                                                        6.3                                                                       5.6


Dosta je Bilo                                                                    4.2                                                                       5.3


 

20 April, 2016: Early Reports of Possible Electoral Irregularities in Serbia; Opposition to File Criminal Complaint with the Ministry of the Interior

Gordana Čomić at a press conference at Media Centar in Belgrade today.
Gordana Čomić at a press conference at Media Centar in Belgrade today.

At a press conference in Belgrade this afternoon, Gordana Čomić of the Democratic Party (DS) raised concerns that a number of households had reported receiving invitations to vote at their homes addressed to individuals that did not exist. Čomić said that DS would be filing a criminal complaint with the Ministry of the Interior over concerns of possible electoral fraud. – LL


 

20 April, 2016:

Serbian Elections: The View from Sandžak: 

Turkish actor Burak Özçivit arrives in Novi Pazar ahead of this weekend's elections in Serbia.
Turkish actor Burak Özçivit arrives in Novi Pazar ahead of this weekend’s elections in Serbia.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić paid a visit to Novi Pazar on Tuesday on the campaign trail as part of a rally for the joint coalition between his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajić’s Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP is currently in power in Novi Pazar and maintains much popular support in the city in the days leading to the elections. The SDP will be running this year primarily against Sulejman Ugljanin’s Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak (SDA), which was in power in Novi Pazar before the SDP, and former Mufti Muamer Zukorlić’s Bošniak Democratic Community (BDZ) in the local elections. The SDP and the SDA have been historic rivals in competing for control in the city, leading to occasional flare-ups of conflict such as a shooting during the pre-elections in 2008. Meanwhile, Zukorlić has recently revamped his commitment to the BDZ’s political aspirations by suspending his position as mufti earlier this year. Ljajić’s ruling party has been campaigning hard over the past few weeks, with various promotional community projects and cultural events, including a recent movie premier and visit by the popular Turkish actor Burak Özçivit. Tuesday night’s rally featured a dramatic firework display and crowds of supporters from around Serbia showing their support for the SNS and the SDP. Not to be outdone, the SDA has a major rally scheduled for Thursday evening. — Patrick McGrath


 

18 April 2016: The Democratic Party 

First some background: Serbia last held elections on March 16th, 2014. Six weeks before the vote, the once-dominant Democratic Party (DS) was pulverized following the sudden departure of two major figures from their previously held positions on the political scene: first, Minister of the Economy Saša Radulović resigned from his post with the ruling coalition dominated by the Progressive Party (SNS) led by “strongman” Aleksandar Vučić. Radulović subsequently formed his own political movement Dosta je bilo (Enough is Enough) in opposition to SNS. A few days later, former President Boris Tadić quit DS and hastily assembled a new party under the name of the New Democratic Party (now the Social Democratic Party). Both Tadić and Radulović officially ran against Vučić in 2014, and in doing so, syphoned votes from the original Democratic Party, resulting in a landslide victory and an absolute parliamentary majority for Vučić and his SNS.

Both Tadić and Radulović will be running against Vučić again this Sunday, but some voters in Serbia doubt their sincerity as true members of the opposition, given what some see as the suspicious pre-election timing of their departure last time around.

Shorn from associations with politicians like Tadić, a new open letter published by the original Democratic Party, led by President of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina Bojan Pajtić, is remarkable not so much for its contents but for its signatories. Among those who added their names to the letter are Ružica Đinđić, widow of the late Democratic Party leader and premier Zoran Đinđić assassinated in 2003. Other prominent signatories include actor Nikola Kojo, seen in major recent Serbian films like Mi nismo anđeli (We’re not angels), and until fairly recently, a supporter of Vučić’s ruling Progressive Party.

We’re publishing our English translation of the Democratic Party’s open letter, as well as the original Serbian version. — LL

 

Belgrade, 15 April 2016.

In the struggle for a normal, fair and democratic Serbia, the Democratic Party has never been alone. On this path it has always been supported by courageous, competent, educated people for that struggle; just like the Democratic Party, they have never given up.

Recognizing the situation in which Serbia finds itself today, realizing that no one has the right to stand aside and recognizing that the Democratic Party is the only force capable of opposing an atmosphere of ignorance, fear, lack of democracy and lack of culture, a large number of our most respected writers, intellectuals, artists, actors, soldiers for democracy and athletes have signed:

OPEN LETTER TO SERBIAN CITIZENS

The dramatic crisis faced by citizens and society as a whole makes it impossible for anyone to stand aside.

Serbia is a country of censorship and self-censorship, poverty and discontent, apathy and hopelessness, institutions which are collapsing and uncertainty which keeps growing.

We invite you to face and confront the deceptions and lies: false investments, fake diplomas, fake experts, false reforms. In order to confront the arrogance, rudeness, intimidation, censorship, ignorance.

In Serbia today, marginalized is culture and education, social rights, health care.

Instead of political freedoms, which are being systematically suppressed, before our very own eyes there is a creation of a new personal and political cult.

Instead of public debates and civic conversations, within Serbia there is a spread of fear which wrecks all hope. Longer are the columns of youth who are planning their futures outside of Serbia.

Renewal of an authoritarian order in Serbia has long ceased to be merely a political issue that concerns only the political parties; it is now a basic social and civic issue in Serbia.

Concerned about the fate of our country which is faced with severe challenges and unaccountable leadership, we urge citizens with their vote in the upcoming elections to influence the decision-making which relates to the character of our country and its prospects.

We invite the public to vote for the Democratic Party in the April 24 elections.

In this party we recognize the power dedicated to the values of civil society, human rights and political democracy. A vote for the Democratic Party is the only sure vote for a decent and normal Serbia.

April 2016

SIGNATORIES:

  • Ružica Đinđić
  • Aida Ćorović
  • Aleksandar Milosavljević
  • Bane Trifunović
  • Boris Isaković
  • Borislav Čičovački
  • Borka Božović
  • Borka Pavićević
  • Branislav Guta Grubački
  • Branislav Lečić
  • Branka Prpa
  • Branko Cvejić
  • Vera Pavlović keramike
  • Vesna Pešić
  • Vida Ognjenović
  • Gabor Lengyel
  • Gojko Božović
  • Gordana Suša
  • Goranka Matić
  • Danica Jovović Prodanović
  • Dragan Velikić
  • Đorđe Balašević
  • Đorđe Randelj
  • Žarko Jokanović
  • Žarko Trebješanin
  • Zagorka Golubović
  • Zoran Ivošević
  • Zoran Lutovac
  • Ivana Stefanović
  • Isidora Žebeljan
  • Kokan Mladenović
  • Mira Banjac
  • Mirjana Mitrović
  • Mirjana Karanović
  • Nađa Higl
  • Neda Arnerić
  • Nikola Kojo
  • Predrag Ejdus
  • Svetislav Basara
  • Svetozar Cvetković
  • Slaviša Lekić
  • Slobodan Kacar
  • Tihomir Stanić

The Democratic Party calls on other fighters for democracy to join the fight for a normal, fair and democratic Serbia.

Београд, 15. априла 2016.

У борби за нормалну, праведну и демократску Србију Демократска странка никада није била сама. На том путу увек су је подржавали храбри, пристојни, образовани људи који од те борбе, баш као ни Демократска странка, никада нису одустали.

Препознајући ситуацију у којој се данас налази Србија, схватајући да нико нема право да остане по страни и препознајући у Демократској странци једину снагу да се супротстави атмосфери незнања, страха, недемократичности и некултуре, велики број наших најугледнијих писаца, интелектуалаца, уметника, глумаца, бораца за демократију и спортиста потписао је:

ОТВОРЕНО ПИСМО ГРАЂАНИМА СРБИЈЕ

Драматична криза с којом се суочавају грађани и целокупно друштво чини немогућим да било ко остане по страни.
Србија је данас земља цензуре и аутоцензуре, сиромаштва и незадовољства, апатије и безнађа, институција које пропадају и несигурности која расте.

Позивамо вас да се суочимо и супротставимо обманама и лажима: лажним инвестицијама, лажним дипломама, лажним стручњацима, лажним реформама. Да се супротставимо бахатости, непристојности, застрашивању, цензури, незнању.

У Србији су данас маргинализовани култура и просвета, социјална права, здравство.

Уместо политичких слобода, које се систематично потискују, пред нашим очима се ствара нови лични и политички култ.

Уместо јавних расправа и друштвених разговора, Србијом се шири страх у коме згашњава свака нада. Све су дуже колоне младих које планирају своју будућност изван Србије.

Обнова ауторитарног поретка у Србији одавно је престала да буде политичко питање које се тиче само политичких странака, она је данас основно друштвено и грађанско питање у Србији.

Забринути за судбину своје земље суочене са тешким изазовима и са неодговорном влашћу, позивамо грађане да својим гласом на предстојећим изборима учествују у одлуци о карактеру наше државе и њеним перспективама.

Позивамо грађане да на изборима 24. априла гласају за Демократску странку.

У тој странци препознајемо снагу посвећену вредностима грађанског друштва, људских права и политичке демократије. Глас за Демократску странку је једини сигуран глас за пристојну и нормалну Србију.

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