European Western Balkans

Freedom House: Serbia and Montenegro are no longer democracies

Belgrade; Photo: Pixabay

WASHINGTON – Serbia and Montenegro, for the first time since 2003, are not democratic states, reads the conclusion of the report “Nations in Transit”, by non-governmental organization Freedom House (FH) – a document that explored and described the governance in 29 countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Voice of America reports.

According to this report for 2020, Serbia and Montenegro are categorized as “governments in transition or hybrid regimes”. In such regimes, power is based on authoritarianism as a result of incomplete democratic change.

“For years, with increased state capture, abuse of power, and tactic of ruling by fear, Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia and Milo Đukanovic in Montenegro have taken their states below the line – for the first time since 2003, they are no longer in the category of democracies among countries in transit,” Freedom House states.

The longest list of critics addressed to Serbia

Serbia has been recording negative indicators in democratic reforms and methods of governance for five consecutive years.

As it is explained in the report, since coming to power in 2012, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has systematically restricted the opposition’s ability to be involved in governing the country.

“From 2016 to 2018, only the proposals from MPs which are friendly oriented towards the government are put on the agenda for voting in the Assembly. Also, in 2019, only two proposals, out of the parliamentary majority, were voted out. In order to limit scrutiny of its own proposals, the SNS excludes opposition from parliamentary committees and overwhelms the proposals with unnecessary amendments, which are included during the time approved for parliamentary debate,” reads the Freedom House report.

Researchers at Freedom House stated that in recent years, more than half of the laws have been adopted by emergency procedure, and disputable legitimacy of parliamentary majority additionally discourages opposition MPs.

They recalled the assessments of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Security observers and that the last parliamentary elections in 2016 showed the abuse of the election process by the SNS.

“The Serbian Progressive Party is abusing the majority, blurring the distinction between state and party activities, putting pressure on voters, especially those employed in the public sector,” as well as “luring voters through social initiatives,” the FH assessed.

The result of all the above, they stated, is a boycott of the opposition in the work of the parliament, because “they do not feel the possibility that they can effectively advocate for a change of policy” through this institution.

In Montenegro the most obvious problems are in the judiciary

Freedom House researcher Michael Smelzer said for the Voice of America, that the most obvious problems in Montenegro are in the judiciary.

“Negative trends and shortcomings in independent work have been noted in that sphere. In that sense, the researchers noticed worrying cases of scandals in the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office”, said Smelzer, adding that the worries are further intensified by the fact that the mandate of the members of the Judicial Council is expiring.

When it comes to Montenegrin parliamentary practice, the report states that an Assembly dominated by the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has slowed electoral reforms, making it difficult to for opposition parties to boycott.

“The DPS-dominated parliament has slowly led electoral reforms, although they have also been hampered by difficulties in collecting quorums during the boycott. However, there were no major problems in gaining votes to adopt the controversial Law on Freedom of Religion,” the part of the report referring to Montenegro stated.

Significant progress of Kosovo and North Macedonia

Compared to last year’s report, Kosovo and North Macedonia have made significant progress among the Western Balkan countries.

“Kosovo and North Macedonia have seen multiple improvements in results. Kosovo is the only country that has made steady progress over the last five years,” the report said.

However, the FH also have some reservations because, as they say, recent developments in both countries raise doubts about future progress.

The position of Bosnia and Herzegovina remained unchanged, that is, in the category of hybrid regimes.

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