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Growing concerns of international community over regularity of Serbian elections

Photo: FoNet

The international community has strongly reacted to numerous irregularities in the Serbian elections, particularly in Belgrade, expressing deep concern over the electoral process.

On Monday, observers from the OSCE mission issued a statement highlighting serious irregularities in the Serbian elections, including the misuse of public funds, media bias favoring the state president, negative campaigning, and the intimidation of voters. While they refrained from questioning the election results directly, they pointed to significant issues such as vote buying.

“We have seen serious irregularities, including vote buying”, it is said at the press conference in Belgrade on Monday organized by international observers. It is added that they are not in a position to comment on whether the election results are called into question due to these irregularities.

On Monday evening, the German Foreign Ministry referred to the preliminary ODIHR’s findings and stated that the electoral irregularities confirmed by international observer missions are “unacceptable” for a candidate country for EU membership.


The European Commission also commented on the electoral process in Serbia.

“With concern, we conclude that the electoral process in Serbia requires tangible improvements and further reform, as the proper functioning of democratic institutions is at the core of Serbia’s accession to the EU”, said EC, N1 reported. They said the EC expects the final report from ODIHR and recommendations for future elections to be implemented as quickly as possible and before the next elections. It is added that the EC expects Serbian authorities to provide credible reports on allegations of electoral irregularities.

The High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, called in a joint statement with Enlargement Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi,  for the Serbian authorities to ensure a constructive and inclusive dialogue.

Due to the way election day unfolded in Serbia and numerous reports of irregularities in the Belgrade elections due to voters registering from Republika Srpska and other cities in Serbia, members of the European Parliament who observed election day expressed concern. For the second consecutive day, citizens of Serbia are protesting outside the premises of the Republic Electoral Commission. The opposition is calling for the annulment of the elections at the Belgrade city level due to evidence of vote-buying and electoral manipulations.

Andreas Scheider, a member of the S&D group, said, “It is disturbing to read reports of attempts by the regime to influence election results.”

“The news of buses carrying citizens who do not live in Belgrade coming to vote in the capital is shocking. Vote theft, bribery, and corruption must not be allowed in the democratic world. The citizens of Serbia deserve justice and democracy, not a false electoral process with violence and polarization. All reported irregularities must be investigated,” Scheider said.

Viola von Cramon, a Green Party member of the European Parliament, assessed that the Serbian elections were held under uneven conditions and were conducted with frequent irregularities on election day and before.

“We witness the organized bringing of voters from Republika Srpska and voters’ intimidation. We absolutely expected higher democratic standards in a country that is a candidate for EU membership and is negotiating that membership. An international oversight and a full investigation are needed,” said von Cramon.

 

She added that the European Parliament is ready to mediate between the government and the opposition in Belgrade to ensure a peaceful and democratic dialogue leading to tension relief.

Klemen Grošelj, a member of the Renew Europe group, noted a low level of political debate during the elections, pressure on voters, the discreditation of political opponents, and harsh rhetoric. He added that these are worrying elements of political life in Serbia.

“We are concerned about cases of offensive attacks and rhetoric combined with the harassment of journalists and civil society organizations. The media is dominated by the significant presence of the president, leaving opposition parties on the sidelines despite legislative changes,” said Grošelj.

However, EP member Vladimir Bilčik, from the European People’s Party, whose SNS is a member, said that the “elections were well conducted and well managed.”

“There are some irregularities regarding reports we received from places we visited about bringing in additional voters, but it is not about a large number of voters. Also, about potential vote buying, especially at polling stations and around them. But again, these were not major incidents, but those we observed on a smaller scale. So, overall, I think the elections went smoothly,” said Bilčik, who is also the EP rapporteur for Serbia.

Stefan Schennah, the head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that monitored the elections in Serbia, asked about Vladimir Bilčik’s statement that the elections went smoothly. Schennah said that partnerships and democracies are not built on kind words but on the truth. “And the truth is a bit shocking for what is happening in Serbia,” Schennah replied.

He said that the elections in Serbia were not fair, votes were manipulated, and “all this is a problem for a country that wants to go the democratic way.” He added that during the vote counting, he saw ballot papers made in a photocopier with a stamp on them. “The police must investigate that.”

Concerns also expressed by American officials

On Tuesday, Matthew Miller, Spokesman of the US State Department, also pointed out that elections featured irregularities.

“We have been observing OSCE preliminary conclusions… We will urge Serbia to work with the OSCE to address these concerns. Claims of irregularities, reported by both OSCE and other observation teams should be investigated”, Miller said.

He added that violence directed against electoral authorities, journalists, and accredited observers, of which we have seen reports is unacceptable.

“We will continue to make that clear to Serbia”, he said.

Also on Tuesday, US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Pete Ricketts (R) sent a statement to Voice of America, saying they were “disappointed that, according to the OSCE… there were numerous irregularities that indicate that [elections] were neither free nor fair”.

“We are particularly concerned about reports that voters were transported to Serbia by buses to support the ruling party, along with reports of vote buying and unauthorized insertion of ballots into ballot boxes”, the statement reads.

The Senators strongly urged all relevant institutions to take urgent steps to consider whether these recent elections should be repeated in certain regions, to ensure that the results accurately reflect the wishes of the citizens.

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