In 2020, the next cycle of parliamentary elections should be held in the Republic of Serbia. On June 6, 2019, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić officially announced that the country will hold parliamentary elections in spring of 2020 (in March or April). “These will be regular, scheduled elections” the President said, putting an end to speculations about the possible early elections. Recall that earlier Aleksandar Vučić did not rule out the possibility of early elections to the Serbian parliament, promising to call them immediately if the opposition demands that.
The previous elections to the National Assembly of Serbia (Narodna skupština) were held in 2016 and 2014 (both were early elections). Also, in both cycles the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka or SNS, President – Aleksandar Vučić) invariably retained the parliamentary majority after its victory in 2012 parliamentary elections.
In the last election, the SNS coalition won 48% of the total vote and 131 out of 250 seats in the parliament. The coalition of the Socialist Party of Serbia (Socijalistička partija Srbije or SPS, President – Ivica Dačić) was the second with 10.95% of the vote and 29 seats. Next came the Serbian Radical Party (Srpska radikalna stranka or SRS, President –Vojislav Šešelj) with 8.10% of the vote and 22 seats, the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka, DS) and Dosta je Bilo (Enough is Enough, DJB) movement with 16 seats and 6% of the vote. The electoral threshold of 5% was passed by political movement Dveri (Doors, aka Gates) led by Boško Obradović and a coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party (Liberalno demokratska partija, LDP). Other parties were either below the 5% threshold, or represented national minorities (for these, the threshold does not apply).
The current political situation in Serbia is relatively stable. However, massive protests occur in the capital city for months, from the late 2018, similar to those of the yellow vests movement in France. Opposition forces got united in the Alliance for Serbia (Savez za Srbiju, SzS) and are arranging mass protests against the “undemocratic conditions created by President Vučić in Serbia”. The opposition does not dispute the results of previous elections, but instead makes general allegations that national elections are always held in an undemocratic atmosphere, without free media and are fraught with persecution of the opposition. The 2019 protests are held under the slogan “1 Out Of 5 million”, which represents a response to the President Vučić’s statement that he will not step down, even if 5 million demonstrators gather in Belgrade. The key SzS figures are Dragan Đilas, former Mayor of Belgrade and the Democratic Party leader; Vuk Jeremić, former Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and People’s Party leader (it gains popularity, but did not participate in the previous elections); and Boško Obradović, leader of the Serbian Movement Dveri. At the moment, the Alliance for Serbia is boycotting all national political and state institutions and demands the resignation of President Aleksandar Vučić and free elections. It is noteworthy that the opposition did not dispute the legitimacy of the previous elections with respect to the victory of the incumbent President and his party, neither it demanded early parliamentary elections (and rather feared this opportunity), since it was well aware of losing them.
The consolidation and temporary association of the opposition political forces means that their election strategies have changed significantly compared to the previous election cycle. Firstly, their organizational and financial capacities have increased. Secondly, through organizing protests, the opposition leaders have got more media coverage and became popular politicians. Thirdly, they succeeded in attracting attention and gaining some prestige among the Western state leaders, which still support Aleksandar Vučić. For instance, the H1 TV Channel, owned by the former CIA Director David Petraeus corporation, openly sided with the opposition. Recall that the current political process in Serbia develops in a situation when the US builds intense pressure upon both President Vučić and the leaders of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, aiming at their mutual recognition and reconciliation (after decades of inciting mutual hatred). This process is very negatively perceived in Serbian society and strengthens the protest movements (both nationalist and liberal), though the rally slogans mostly address human rights and the protection of democratic institutions.
Meanwhile, the government strategies have changed only slightly. The main change to be noted is the organized counter-meetings of SNS supporters. In addition to that, President Aleksandar Vučić made a tour across Serbia, which included a series of rallies in provincial cities with his participation. As before, the principal government strategy is the use of available administrative state resources, such as the state media, state enterprises, and local governments (to some extent). Serbia features high unemployment rate and municipalities arrange various projects where the poorest citizens can earn some income. The opposition complains of voter bribery in small towns and villages, and if proved (usually there is no such evidence), this could also be referred to as the election strategy of the authorities. Besides, Serbia receives regular support from Russia and members of the United Russia party have met with the Serbian opposition more than once. The EU and US leadership also support the incumbent President Aleksandar Vučić and the representatives of Alliance for Serbia have also visited the US on numerous occasions.
As regards the atmosphere of future elections, it will undoubtedly be turbulent, with mutual accusations of violence, deceit and surrender of national interests between the authorities and opposition. At the moment, the advantage is with the incumbent President, who has considerable resources and is backed by the great powers. It can be assumed that if the elections were held in the coming months, the SNS would have won a landslide victory, as in previous electoral cycles. But if the process of Kosovo recognition develops and, moreover, is completed this year, the opposition will get a chance to seriously confront Mr. Vučić and become a real contender for power in the country.
The Serbian opposition makes ready for resuming anti-government protests in September. In the case the most likely scenario is implemented (a relatively low rating of the Alliance for Serbia is kept), a campaign to boycott the elections may be initiated. The latter would mean a political defeat for the allied opposition. Meanwhile, a serious split between some opposition leaders is observed, for example, between former Belgrade Mayor Dragan Đilas and former MFA Vuk Jeremić.