BRUSSELS – President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić wrote in an opinion piece for Euractiv on Monday that his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has succeeded in establishing conditions for a free and fair election. In today’s response, mayor of Šabac and one of the opposition leaders Nebojša Zelenović accuses the government of a still existing widespread repression of the voters and biased media coverage.
Criticizing the decision of “self-appointed” opposition leaders to boycott the parliamentary election scheduled for 26 April, Vučić wrote that “opposition voters could thus be denied their basic democratic right to political representation and could be de facto disenfranchised by a few unelected individuals who claim to represent them”.
According to him, all the important and meaningful requests and recommendations on how to improve electoral conditions that the government has received have been accepted and the necessary legislation passed.
He added that the government has reduced parliamentary threshold from 5% to 3% “to ensure representation of a broader range of political parties and guaranteed seats to representatives of ethnic minorities”.
Vučić wrote that the threatened boycott was never about the election process, but rather about the fear of opposition leaders to honestly and transparently face the electorate. They have thus, according to him, decided to delegitimize the April elections and the next government.
“They will fail… An anticipated high voter turnout will validate the election and discredit those who call for a boycott”, he concluded.
In a response to President’s claims, mayor of Šabac Nebojša Zelenović stressed that it has become clear now that these regulatory changes were merely cosmetic.
“As Freedom House noted, Serbia’s electoral laws already largely adhere to international standards. The opposition therefore has not demanded regulatory changes during the dialogue, but a meaningful implementation of the laws and regulations that already exist”, he wrote.
According to Zelenović, repression of the voters is still widespread in Serbia.
“It is widely known that those employed by the state have an obligation to vote for SNS, and are often expected to gather more voters. Many of these employees – by some estimates around 230.000 – have temporary contracts that will only be extended if they provide proof that they voted for the ruling party. This is all in addition to the general fear-mongering campaign about the opposition, which is exacerbated by the mainstream media”, he wrote.
He reminded that the international organisations such as Freedom House, CIVICUS and Reporters Without Borders have been downgrading Serbia for years in their indexes of democracy and freedom of expression, while the European Commission has expressed “serious concern” over these issues.
When it comes to the lowering of the threshold, Zelenović reminded that this was done without public consultations and only three months before the election date.
“While the government presents this as a step towards democratisation, it is clear that its primary goal is to enable satellite opposition parties loyal to the regime to enter parliament. The move has been labelled ‘a dangerous tactic’ by MEPs Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilčík who headed the EU delegation during the dialogue”, Zelenović wrote.
He explained that, under these circumstances, the majority of the Serbian opposition cannot legitimise an increasingly authoritarian system in which Serbia is consistently backsliding on all democratic indicators and moving further away from EU membership.
“Nevertheless, we remain committed to any meaningful reform efforts that could allow free and fair elections in the future”, he concluded.