We Asked People in Serbia: What Will the Presidential Election Mean for the Country?

We asked several people in Serbia from various fields to give their opinion on Sunday’s presidential election. This is what they had to say. 


 

“After the presidential elections in April, Serbia will have a new president and Aleksandar Vucic yet another position. The person who controls the Serbian government, its military, the secret service, the economy, the media and even its Christmas decorations, will now also become a person who holds the key to the office which has the authority to give out awards to people — the only power Tomislav Nikolic had. Aleksandar Vucic will, therefore, control everything except Aleksandar Vucic!

The only positive thing that could come out of this election is the probable formation of two new political parties: a center-right party organized around Vuk Jeremic, and the civic opposition around Sasa Jankovic. It is also possible that with their wave of popularity, the mock candidate Beli Preletacevic and the guys around him will become more serious (who now only seemingly remind us of Beppe Grillo’s movement). What we can already conclude from Serbia’s defeat is the guarantee of “soft dictatorship” which will be Vucic’s weapon of choice when destroying the remains of Serbian democracy. What makes things even worse is that the strength of that dictatorship will be regulated by a man who is preoccupied with self-obsession and fantasies about having unlimited power, success, wisdom, and an irresistible need for praise and worship. What is to come is an era in which Serbia will float through the fog of malignant narcissism.”
– Slavisa Lekic, President of NUNS (Independent association of Serbian journalists) and editor-in-chief of the magazine STATUS

“The forthcoming presidential elections are of critical importance for the future of Serbia. Voters will decide not only who they want to see as the next president, but also what kind of political authority they want to empower. Three candidates are stark examples of the fateful choice facing Serbia. Aleksandar Vucic represents a traditional political authority, a sort of authoritarian father who beats the hell out of everyone around the house in return for the promise of stability now, milk and honey later. Luka Maksimovic aka Beli symbolises a charismatic enfant terrible who performs pranks against the father and rebels against his authority, without a clear cause though. Finally, Sasa Jankovic stands for the rational authority, rule of law and competent bureaucracy which is a backbone of every modern state. In times of global turbulence, collective anxiety and the retreat of democracy that we live in and with the help of controlled media and electoral manipulations, I am afraid that the father figure is most likely to carry the day.”
– Filip Ejdus, Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol

“Even though it seems that the elections in Serbia are becoming almost constant, one must have in mind that these are the first regular elections since 2012. Nevertheless, there is little doubt who will be the winner. Hence, despite the framework of parliamentary democracy where executive power is supposed to be exercised by the prime minister, we can expect that the focus of power will now move from the prime minister’s position to the president (Aleksandar Vucic) who will, unlike his predecessor, continue to run the ruling party and to de facto control the government. Yet, we must not forget that Vucic will not be the first to unconstitutionally introduce a (semi)presidential system in Serbia. PM Cvetkovic during the last four years of the presidency of Boris Tadic (between 2008 and 2012), was widely regarded as little more than a puppet of then-President Tadic.

On the other hand, if anybody had any doubt about the nature of Vucic’s regime in Serbia, this is the time when all masks have fallen off. Quite often described as a power-hungry autocrat who already has under his control all important institutions in the country, Vucic has (ab)used his position of the PM and available public resources to promote his candidacy. Having in mind that the media are mostly controlled by the regime, he has led the extremely brutal attacks on other candidates and members of their family creating a situation where there is Vucic and “the others”, even though nominally there are 11 candidates. The best illustration of the biased media coverage we witnessed one day before a pre-election period of silence when central daily newspapers covered front pages with adverts for PM Aleksandar Vucic.

In conclusion, it’s clear that in the coming years the future of Serbia will be determined by the (un)willingness of Aleksandar Vucic to concede potential electoral defeat.”
– Katarina Tadic, Researcher at CEP Belgrade

“Presidential elections have played an important role in recent Serbian history and, looking back, 2017 will be seen in the same light. Despite having relatively modest official authority, the presidency holds great symbolic power and every president or wannabe president has changed the trajectory of the country dramatically by winning or losing a presidential election. Each regime has gone through three phases: consolidation of power, exercise of power and defense of power, and each phase has lasted 4-5 years. In the case of Milosevic, these periods were 1987-1990, 1991-1995, and 1996-2000. In the case of DOS and its heirs, we’re talking about 2000-2003, 2004-2008, and 2008-2012. We’ll see if Vucic’s regime follows the same pattern.

We can also see this as a sort of pendulum that keeps swinging and never stops. It started swinging in Milosevic’s direction in the mid-1980s, in the direction of the opposition in the mid-1990s and in Vucic’s direction in the mid-2000s. Now we’re in the mid-2010s and it will start swinging back once again. The full swing will come by the end of the decade.

If Vucic wins, this will be the end of the period of consolidation of power which lasted between 2012 and 2016, a period marked by the dismantling of democratic institutions, especially independent institutions, free press, political parties etc. But at the same time it will be a moment when the pendulum reverses its direction and momentum towards the alternative starts picking up, a sort of renaissance of October the 5th, in a different form, but based on similar values, desires and hopes, something I predicted back in 2012.”
 – Ivan Marovic, Otpor!

“Every election in Serbia promises a new beginning, but ends up in disappointment. However, what it does provide is enough laughing material until it’s time to hold the next one. If we wait long enough, living in Serbia might become the closest thing to a real-life Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Considering that percentage of those who feel apathetic will always be above the voter turnout, and that thousands of people leave the country annually, there will be fewer and fewer people to enjoy the show. But, despite knowing these facts, what do Serbian politicians do? They try to get elected again, because what do you do once you fail? You fail again, but fail better. As nobody believes that anyone can prevent the god himself, PM Vucic, from winning the presidency, and probably becoming the only European politician in history who ran for president while holding the position of the Prime Minister, we cannot be optimistic about Serbia’s democracy in the future. A place in which the same politicians are around for more than 25 years, a place in which voices are oppressed and young people are indifferent, we will likely be looking to conclude Serbia’s existence by the end of this century, once the very last person packs their bags and crosses the border. Until that happens, we are destined to live in a periodic dystopian limbo which fills our reality between the elections. Then we will elect new person who will do the same – nothing.”
 – Sergej Dojcinovic, deputy editor Balkanist

“Elections in Serbia are like Bigfoot. Here’s why.

I was asked to comment on Serbian elections, but I realized it’s impossible. How can anyone comment on something that doesn’t exist? Like Bigfoot, appearance is there, it seems like a big creature with fur and big feet in the woods, but actually it’s just a guy in a fake fur and a bunch of people who are making money claiming it’s real. Let’s be honest: elections cannot exist without a genuine democratic setup. First of all, we need free media. Is there any in Serbia? Except for maybe two percent, there isn’t any left. Just a week ago, an editor of Vecernje novosti, Srdjan Skoro, got the court decision that he was wrongfully dismissed from work as one of their editors three years ago, after speaking on the morning show of state TV RTS against Prime Minister Vucic. For the past three years, therefore, Novosti were operating without his free mind and words, working only for Vucic and his party. So this court decision is too little, too late.

Free elections cannot exist without an independent election committee, comprised of representatives of all candidates. It is not the case. The RIK (Republicka izborna komisija) is dominated by Vucic’s people and his proxies. Last week, RIK decided that elections in Kosovo, worth 50,000 votes, which cannot be verified and are easily stolen, will be held just like in the last elections. The fact that the Constitutional Court ruled that these elections were unconstitutional did not affect RIK’s decision at all. Imagine you have an “independent election committee” in your country, which decides to repeat elections in the same way that they were already dismissed as unconstitutional before! Since these elections could be decided by a margin of 10,000 votes, those 50,000 from Kosovo could prove more than just a little important.

Free elections require that all the candidates begin from an equal starting point. Not so in Serbia. Vucic did not resign as Prime Minister when he decided to run for President. He’s using all his (actually ours, the citizens of Serbia) resources in his campaign. Public utility companies are engaged in Vucic’s campaign in every city in Serbia. Serbian taxpayers are watching as employees of their cities put up Vucic’s campaign posters (with police guarding them), communal transportation companies are taking people all across Serbia to attend Vucic’s election rallies, while ministers of the government are adding to his campaign in every way imaginable.

There is much more proof that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, but to include it all, the article would be too long. It is only a matter of perspective if someone wants to see it. Just like with Bigfoot, some people have too much to lose if they recognize it’s a hoax. There are many EU politicians who claim Vucic is the perfect choice for the president of Serbia. Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Gerhard Schroeder, Alfred Gusenbauer, to name just a few. Maybe it is good for their interests to keep the show going on.

Maybe it would not be beneficial for many international and local players if Bigfoot was seen for what it really is, a fake product of a coalition of unethical media, small private gains, a collapse of independent institutions. But there are people in Serbia who cannot be fooled: These are not real elections, this is not a democracy, this is not what we deserve. It is just a guy in a fake fur, in a blurred photo, hoping to get away with it one more time. And most likely he is going to get away with it, one more time.”
– Ivan Milosevic, an experienced campaign manager from Belgrade

BALKANIST

Balkanist is an experimental, occasionally bilingual platform featuring politics, analysis, culture, and criticism for a smart international audience underwhelmed by what is currently on offer.Our aim is to provide bold, uncompromising coverage of the Balkan region and everything to its East.

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