Serbian parliament left without clear opposition as the ruling party wins partially boycotted elections

Plenary hall of the National Assembly of Serbia; Photo: Wikimedia Commons

BELGRADE – Ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has won the parliamentary election in the country with 62,6% of the vote, according to the projections. The largest opposition coalition, the Alliance for Serbia, boycotted the election, citing lack of conditions for their free and fair conduct, leading to the lowest turnout ever in the elections for Serbian parliament. Junior coalition partner in the government, Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), won 10,9% of the vote, while the threshold of 3% was crossed only by Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) of Novi Beograd mayor Aleksandar Šapić, who won 4,2% of the vote.

As of the morning of Monday, 22 June, CeSID and CRTA, longtime election observers, as well as the Republican Electoral Commission, confirmed that only SNS, SPS and SPAS will have MPs in the next parliament, alongside the national minority parties. The turnout remains undetermined, but CRTA and CeSID projections have it below 50%, between 47 and 49%, which would make it the lowest percentage in Serbia since the establishment of a multi-party system in 1990.

The turnout was particularly low in the capital of Belgrade where, according to the IPSOS agency, only 35% of the voters showed up at the polls one hour before they were closed. According to the boycotting opposition, the actual turnout figures are even lower than the official ones and are not higher than 42% for the entire country.

The victory of the Serbian Progressive Party, lead by the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, can only be compared to the very first multi-party election in the country, when then President Slobodan Milošević achieved a similar result.

On the same day, elections for the provincial assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, as well as the majority of local assemblies were held. SNS won every contest convincingly, with only one or two municipalities in the country now not being ruled by the party.

No pro-EU opposition in the parliament

According to the current projections, SNS will have 189 out of 250 seats in the new parliament, enough for a two-third majority necessary to change the Constitution. Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), which has been a coalition partner in the governments lead by SNS since 2012, will have 32 MPs, while SPAS, party of Aleksandar Šapić, will have 12 MPs. The rest of the seats will be occupied by the national minority parties representing Hungarian, Bosniak and Albanian community in Serbia.

Šapić is a beneficiary of the decision of the ruling parties to lower the election threshold from 5% to 3% just a few months before the elections, leading to criticism that it only did that to mitigate the effects of the opposition boycott. The critics seem to be vindicated – if the threshold of 5%, under which the elections in Serbia were held since 1992, had been kept in place, only the ruling majority would have won seats in the parliament.

Leader of SPAS Aleksandar Šapić, a former water polo player, has been a mayor of Belgrade municipality Novi Beograd for years. He has never taken a strong position against the ruling parties, emphasising that he is ready to talk with anybody. However, he has taken conservative views and stated that his primary motivation for supporting Serbia’s EU accession process would be Union’s funding of less developed members.

Šapić’s list of MPs entering the new parliament, on the other hand, is filled by well known right-wing politicians and Eurosceptics, including former presidential candidate of right-wing Dveri Vladan Glišić, former member and MP of ultra nationalist Serbian Radical Party Marina Raguš and Ratko Dmitrović, former editor of anti-EU conservative newspaper Večernje novosti.

With the pro-EU candidates, such as Free Citizens Movement and United Democratic Serbia, failing to reach the 3% threshold, it can be assessed that the current Serbian parliament will be left without pro-EU, if any, opposition.

Vučić: We will accept the people from other lists in the Government

“In forming the next Government of Serbia, to show that we are not arrogant and that we will take people from the lists that did not pass the census, to create a Government that will make key decisions and have an even broader consensus,” said President of Serbia and Serbian Progressive Party Aleksandar Vučić, N1 reported.

Asked when the formation of the new Government of Serbia can be expected, Vučić said that it would be “within the legal deadline”.

The president of the SNS thanked the citizens for going to the polls.

“We will dedicate ourselves to health and protect people’s health and prepare for a difficult autumn. People had enough courage and strength to say what they think about the future of Serbia and what they want,” said Vučić.

European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi wrote on Twitter that these elections were an important day for Serbia and that he is looking forward to working with the new government.

“Important day for Serbia with parliamentary and local elections. Looking forward to working with new government on EU-related reforms. Committed to help Serbia move forward quickly towards EU accession and to support economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19 crisis”, he wrote.

Irregularities throughout the day, “race” to reach the 50% turnout

According to election observer CRTA, 5% of polling stations featured irregularities that could have influenced the results of the voting. The organisation stressed that the number of irregularities is twice as high as in 2016.

Among the problematic practices observed by the watchdogs were attempts to buy the votes, handing out already filled ballots to the voters in the city of Zrenjanin and holding a separate registration of people who voted outside the polling stations.

The turnout resembled previous election cycles in the morning and early afternoon, when it is assumed that most of the supporters of the ruling parties voted. However, hourly reports of the turnout detected a widening gap between the turnout in 2020 and 2016 as the day progressed, which was at least partially contributed to the effects of the boycott.

Reports of SNS activists increasing their efforts to get as many people as possible to vote started to arrive in late afternoon.

The official turnout is not yet declared, but SNS claimed that it barely surpassed 50%, which is not in accordance with the observes and the boycotting opposition. Leader of the Freedom and Justice Party and one of the prime initiators of the boycott Dragan Đilas claimed that everything above 42% is a result of a fraud.