Demonstrations against the ‘dictatorship’ of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic entered their third day today, as thousands of people braved rainy weather in the cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad to protest the powerful premier’s contested victory in Sunday’s presidential election. Smaller gatherings of several hundred people or so were reported in cities across Serbia.
Protesters issued five demands for the government this evening:
- Replacement of the members of the Republic’s Electoral Commission (RIK)
- Replacement of all members of the body that regulates the electronic media in #Serbia (REM)
- Replacement of the Head of the Parliament, Maja Gojkovic, because she “obstructed” the work of the Parliament.
- Replacement of the heads of the National Television and Radio of Serbia (RTS) because of their alleged “bias” towards the government.
- Revision of the voting lists, and making a more up-to-date list of those who are registered and able to vote.
The electoral commission (RIK) tasked with overseeing Sunday’s election was comprised of a president and 16 members. Of these 17 individuals, the president along with six other members were from Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party (SNS). Two other members were from smaller parties on the same list as SNS with leaders who were vocal in their support for Vucic prior to the presidential election: the Pensioners’ Party (PUPS) and and the Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDPS). Another three members of RIK were from parties in the governing coalition with SNS, and also supported his candidacy — two from the Socialist Party (SPS) and one from the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM). That means 12 out of 17 members of RIK, including its president, openly supported a Vucic victory going into the election.
The remaining five members were from parties hardly visible or entirely absent from the campaign, including a member of former President Boris Tadic’s minor Social Democratic Party (SDS) which did not run a candidate in the election at all, and the Democratic Party (DS), which likewise did not run a candidate but supported former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic. Sasa Radulovic’s Dosta je Bilo had a single member, but Radulovic only managed to take 1.3 percent of the vote. This means that none of Vucic’s top three competitors — Jankovic, Beli Maksimovic or Vuk Jeremic — had any real representation on the supposedly impartial government body overseeing the electoral process.
- SNS President Vladimir Dimitrijević
- SNS Dragana Odović
- SNS Nataša Đukić
- SNS Maja Pejčić
- SNS Marko Janković
- SNS Vesna Mizdrak
- SNS Nikola Jelić
- SPS Milјkan Karličić
- SPS Vladimir Tasić
- SVM Ladóczki Gyula (Đula Ladocki)
- SDPS (SNS-ova lista) Brankica Jović
- PUPS (SNS-ova lista) Vladimir Jestratijević
- SRS Bilјana Krasić
- DJB Vladimir Gajić, (DJB Candidate Sasa Radulovic only received 1.3%)
- DS Darija Šajin, Supported Jankovic, did not run their own candidate
- DSS Marko Danilović, (DSS Candidate Aleksandar Popovic only received 1%)
- SDS Ivana Petrin, former President Tadic’s Party, supported Vuk Jeremic, did not run their own candidate
Speaker of the Parliament Maja Gojkovic (of SNS) suspended parliament a month before the election, which was widely interpreted as an effort to silence the opposition and deprive the country of parliamentary oversight. Media coverage was demonstrably biased in Vucic’s favor in the period leading up to the election, and protesters gathered in front of the state television station RTS on the first night of the protests. Research conducted by Transparency Serbia and other media monitoring organizations supports the claim that media was heavily biased in Vucic’s favor.
Concerns about the partisan composition and conduct of RIK were voiced in the aftermath of last April’s parliamentary elections as well, and Balkanist prepared a chronology of electoral irregularities then.
Despite the overwhelming empirical evidence that this was not a “free and fair” election, the protesters’ demands will naturally be ignored. Protest movements always lose momentum, especially without a clear organizational or leadership structure.
All of this does present a problem for the EU. Most major European leaders congratulated Vucic on winning the presidential election, and he has long enjoyed largely uncritical praise from the west. The majority of protesters against his “dictatorship” are young, and in Serbia, those born after 1982 are the segment of the population least supportive of EU membership. A study conducted in September 2016 revealed that 54 percent of this age group were against joining the EU. By remaining silent now in the face of Serbia’s student protests, the EU risks further alienating young people.
The EU also already looks highly inconsistent: by demanding that VMRO-DPMNE step down in neighboring Macedonia by making vague appeals to democracy, while supporting Vucic’s continued consolidation of power and disregard for democratic norms. Given Vucic’s political history and conduct during his more recent half decade of rule, it’s difficult to argue that he somehow isn’t deserving of any criticism from the EU while in Macedonia, VMRO deserves threats of criminal sanctions if it doesn’t step down immediately.
Regardless, it’s readily apparent that the EU is losing the support of young people from across the political spectrum in both Serbia and Macedonia right now.
Our 19-year-old deputy editor, Sergej Dojcinovic, summed up the hopes and fears of the moment:
“Serbia is a very unpredictable nation. It is interesting to see people, hear noise and feel after so many years of indifference. However, what we must make sure to do is to use this overwhelming new energy for the creation of something good for the country, and not go down the spiral of chaos and hostility. Only then we will see the rebirth of this great nation.”
— Lily Lynch and Sergej Dojcinovic