Two days ago on 17 December, general and local elections took place in Serbia, a Western Balkans country often linked with conflicts. The outcomes of the elections are already being challenged by the majority of opposition leaders, particularly within the ‘Serbia Against Violence’ coalition. The results of these elections in Serbia are expected to further complicate issues related to stability, security, reconciliation, European integration, and press freedom in the Western Balkans.
On 18 December, the electoral commission officially announced the triumph of the Serbian Progressive Party in the recent parliamentary elections, securing 46.71% of the vote (1,721,572), whereas the opposition pro-European coalition “Serbia Against Violence” garnered 23.58%. Out of 6,500,666 registered voters, 58.84% participated in the elections, with approximately 2.7% of the ballots deemed invalid.
The performance of the “Serbia Against Violence” (Srbija Protiv Nasilja) party has demonstrated that there is space for opposition to the current regime. However, the state apparatus has actively taken measures to diminish their capacity to influence the public. The key question lies in the future development of this party, which, if approached with wisdom, could evolve into a formidable force posing a genuine threat to Vučić in the coming years. Achieving this would require securing more media visibility and engaging in conflicts with Vučić, particularly on the issue of Kosovo, while presenting alternative solutions that the public would be willing to accept. This scenario is highly questionable.
President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia has requested extraordinary elections as part of a strategic move to demonstrate his authority and reinforce the absolute dominance of the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka – SNS) over the country. Especially through personalizing the campaign for the SNS to secure votes.
In the week before the elections, as an analyst and commentator on politics and foreign affairs in Europe and the Western Balkans, I appeared as a guest on N1 Croatia’s Newsroom. During that discussion, I predicted that President Vučić ‘s party would secure victory through non-ethical elections. The Serbian Progressive Party’s governance can be somewhat compared to Lukashenko’s corrupted rule in Belarus. Concerns are around issues such as media freedom, political corruption, treatment of minorities, and diplomatic relations with Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the establishment of the Republic of Serbia, a trend has emerged where politicians and leaders associated with the previous regime of the war criminal President Slobodan Milosevic dominate the Serbian government, judiciary, military, and public services, including crucial institutions. This infiltration of politics and the ruling party into the state constitutes a “deep state,” capable of influencing and controlling the electoral process.
According to the opposition and its leader, Miroslav Aleksić, the recent elections in Serbia were manipulated, with numerous rule violations reported. Miroslav Aleksić, the opposition leader, claimed that individuals residing outside Belgrade were transported in buses, vans, and cars to vote as if they were local citizens. He further alleged that 40,000 identity documents were issued for individuals not residing in the Serbian capital. Expressing strong disapproval, Aleksić stated, “we will employ all available democratic means to address the vote rigging in Belgrade and Serbia. What happened today is not something we can acknowledge as the result of a democratic and fair election.”
In this context, it is intriguing to observe certain regional leaders standing alongside President Vučić and Prime Minister Brnabic. Noteworthy figures include Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska, Nenad Nesic, the Minister of Security of Bosnia & Herzegovina, whose ministry effectively functions as the state intelligence agency, and Andrija Mandic, the President of the Parliament of Montenegro. The presence of President Dodik and Minister Nesic may also be associated with allegations that they are assisting President Vučić and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) by mobilizing people from Republika Srpska to participate in voting in Serbia.
Minorities, including Croats in Serbia, experienced limited representation in Sunday’s elections, with no representatives successfully elected to the Serbian Parliament. It also highlights the need for Serbia to enhance efforts toward safeguarding minority rights and protection. For example, Croatia by law guarantee representation of minorities in the Parliament of which 3 seats are reserved for Serbs minority representatives in Croatia. Serbia should in same way protect minorities and guarantee their representation in the Parliament and government. Croatia should address this concern within the EU framework, particularly in the context of Serbia’s negotiations process for the EU integrations.
The complicated relations between Croats and Serbs in Bosnia & Herzegovina contribute to this issue, acting as a platform for conflicts between the two countries. Factors such as destabilization efforts by President Milorad Dodik in Republika Srpska, challenges with the Electoral Law, non-compliance with the Constitution, and disregarding decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina are among the significant issues in this highly divided country.
The largest employer in Serbia is undeniably the state itself, under the control of President Vučić’s associates, strategically utilized to shape the narrative of state politics, foreign policy, and the economy. In such a system, achieving a genuinely free market or facilitating foreign investments becomes exceedingly challenging, given the bureaucratic hurdles and the dominance of businessmen affiliated with the ruling party. The primary objective behind this structure is evidently to exert control over the day-to-day affairs in Serbia and financial resources. These funds were instrumental in influencing the elections on Sunday, December 17, with advertisements, media presence, and various means of “buying votes” deemed crucial for President Vučić and his party to consolidate their ultimate authority over Serbia.
The upcoming year holds great significance in global affairs and geopolitics, prompting President Vučić to proactively initiate extraordinary elections in Serbia. The move is aimed at positioning himself and Serbia strategically ahead of major elections in Europe, Russia, and the United States. Vladimir Putin continues to regard Vučić as a significant ally within the Russian sphere.
Despite the relatively muted response from the United States regarding the illegal invasion of Kosovo and the near outbreak of war in the Western Balkans this year, there is an acknowledgment that Vučić is willing to withdraw when instructed. The US also expects increased involvement from the EU in addressing these matters. While the EU remains Serbia’s primary trade partner and financier, there is an unspoken understanding on both sides that Serbia’s European path is effectively delaying tactics for the predictable future.
President Vučić, while affirming Serbia’s dedication to the European path in the current period, notably underscores the phrase “for now.” This emphasis is crucial to understanding his approach of upholding relations with the EU for economic advantages while concurrently fostering ties with Russia. Vučić ‘s strategy involves navigating both sides to attain benefits from two prosperous sources, with the aim of securing financial gains for his friends and colleagues. Another aspect of this diplomatic balancing act is his anticipation of the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine and the future direction of the EU. Vučić intends to position himself favorably based on the more prosperous outcomes in these geopolitical developments.
China expresses satisfaction with its relationship with Serbia, particularly highlighted by the strengthened friendship between President Xi and President Vučić through the recently established Free Trade Agreement of two months ago. The agreement further solidifies Serbia’s position as a significant European outpost within China’s geopolitical initiative, the Belt and Road project. The mutual interests on both sides are expected to yield benefits for individuals associated with President Vučić and Chinese businesses, positioning Serbia as a gateway to the EU.
Considering the inherent corruption in Serbia, there is anticipation of a transitional import/export arrangement for Chinese goods, clearing the way for the Western Balkans market and potentially even the EU. Additionally, this presents an opportunity for China to extend its geopolitical influence and interests into the Western Balkans, like its expansion in Africa. Croatia is expected to play a crucial role in defending the EU’s external borders and the Schengen Zone within this context.
A significant portion of the Serbian population appears to be swayed by nationalist rhetoric, directing attention towards issues that do not fully focus on the challenges facing the country’s development. President Vučić and his party keeps warning the nation that they have enemies and that they are victims of foreign powers. In such a way they are creating an atmosphere where people think that the authorities are the only ones to protect them and Serbia’s national interests. Consequently, there is less enthusiasm for EU integration and engaging in negotiations, especially considering the rivalry and stronger economic position of Croatia, a target of the ‘Greater Serbia’ aspirations. This way nationalist rhetoric is influencing the public and using relations with Croatia to create “savior” and “protector” role of President Vučić, which generates favorable opinions in most of the elder and rural Serbian population.
The opposition and students in Serbia organized a protest yesterday outside the headquarters of the Republic’s Electoral Commission. During the demonstration, they presented evidence of electoral rule violations and called for the annulment of the election results. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed concerns about the breach of electoral rules and the use of unethical methods to secure votes. This adds to the growing doubts regarding the fairness of the elections and supports my earlier predictions about the electoral process in Serbia. Russia supports the victory of President Vučić’s party and the US is taking a diplomatic position, stating that it looks forward to cooperation with the new government. The EU observer mission member for the elections in Serbia and MEP Andreas Schieder of Austria has criticized elections and stated that there is no place for stealing of votes and corruption in democratic world.
The political stance of “Serbia above everybody” is unlikely to pave the way for a positive future for the nation. While democracy in Serbia faces threats, the current focus of European leaders, the United States, and the United Kingdom lies on urgent internal and foreign policy matters. On the other side, Aleksandar Vučić, as the leader, may be seen as acceptable because he is already familiar to both Western and Eastern powers, allowing for a level of control through various deals, agreements, threats, and corruption. Therefore, after Sunday’s elections in Serbia we have Milosevic after Milosevic with predictable next political moves.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com.