European Western Balkans

This year’s election in Serbia was the most controversial in the last 20 years, a new report finds

Election day in Serbia; Photo: Tanjug

BELGRADE – Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, in cooperation with the Centre for Contemporary Politics, has published an analysis of the electoral process in Serbia 2020, which assesses that it was the most controversial election in Serbia since the democratic changes of twenty years ago, as well as that the mediation of the European Parliament was not successful.

In the text, titled “Serbian Election 2020: Erosion of Trust in the Democratic Process“, it is stated that numerous irregularities, which greatly influenced the electoral outcome, were documented on election day and during the electoral campaign, which unofficially continued during the State of Emergency declared due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“Almost all the mentioned deficiencies were not the result of technical errors or imperfections of the electoral process, rather an evident result of the lack of political will to hold free and fair elections”, the report stresses.

It is especially indicative, the analysis reads, that these elections had a record number of irregularities and controversies despite the fact that their winner was never in doubt, and that they had been preceded by a months-long EP-mediated dialogue during which the government committed itself to improving electoral conditions.

When it comes to the problems of the election campaign and the election day, the document cites the findings of the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), Transparency Serbia, BIRODI and other organizations, which noticed serious media imbalance, pressure on voters, blurring of lines between state and party activities and misuse of public resources.

Serbian Progressive Party, election night; Photo: FoNet

Some of these areas were the subject of the negotiations between the government and the opposition, with the mediation of the European Parliament at the end of 2019 when a set of measures was adopted that the government pledged to fulfil.

“All or almost all recommendations were formally implemented. However, the evaluation shows that they either did not cover all the areas, such as pressure on voters and cases of officials’ campaigning, or they did not produce the expected outcome. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that the recommendations are limited only to amendments to relevant legal acts and the adoption of a recommendation but not directed to the actual implementation of established rules”, the report finds.

It is also stressed that, instead of improvement of electoral conditions, hasty changes to the electoral system which violated the principles of the Venice Commission took place, as well as very intensive in-office campaigning, and most probably a manipulation of official statistics on the COVID-19 pandemic for political gains.

“In the end, we have also seen elections with a record number of irregularities, as well as electoral results which by themselves raise questions about the democratic nature of Serbia’s political system”, the analysis highlights.

It is added that the lack of trust in the electoral process, as well as an unrepresentative parliament, whose composition does not correspond to the relations of the political forces in this society, will have an effect on deepening the political crisis, having in mind that dissatisfaction will not be channelled through political institutions.

Among the recommendations of the report is a call for the EU-mediated dialogue to continue but in such a way as to involve all relevant actors and to address fundamental issues important for holding fair and free elections, with strict monitoring of implementation.

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