European Western Balkans

Vučić took a page from Gruevski’s playbook? Both leaders accused of organising voter migrations

Nikola Gruevski; Photo: VMRO-DPMNE

Since the Serbian elections on 17 December, opposition has been accusing the ruling party of organised registration of voters who otherwise do not live in Belgrade to vote in the city’s local election. Similar accusations, with leaked audio recordings to back them up, were made against former Prime Minister of North Macedonia (then FYR Macedonia) Nikola Gruevski, writes Serbia Elects. 

Even before 17 December, opposition from the “Serbia Against Violence” coalition was making allegations that “phantom voters” were being registered in Belgrade, which the government representatives denied.

During election day, videos of what appeared to be organised transportation of voters were widely shared on social media.

After the elections, domestic observer CRTA released a report documenting several forms of evidence that organised voter migration did take place. The exact number remained undetermined due to lack of additional information. Opposition parties and their legal teams have also started releasing various documentation which they claim proves illegal migration.

The allegations are especially relevant in Belgrade, where the margin of victory of the list submitted by the ruling party was less than 5%. Opposition claims that citizens of Serbia living in other areas, including the region, were transported to vote in the local election.

The opposition now demands the annulment of the elections on all levels and an international investigation which would ensure that repeated elections are held in better conditions.

The government maintains that no foul play took place. Minister of the Interior Bratislav Gašić, in an appearance on public broadcaster RTS on 9 January, said that all the increases of the number of voters in Belgrade were attributable to legitimate economic migrations.

“When you are looking for an alibi for your loss, you say that everybody but you is responsible”, Gašić said, commenting on opposition’s allegations.

Accusations mirror the situation in Gruevski’s Macedonia

Nikola Gruevski, Prime Minister of Macedonia from 2006 to 2016, faced the same accusations while in office. Apparent voter migrations organised by the VMRO-DPMNE party, which was then in power, were featured in the leaked recordings released by then opposition SDSM in early 2015.

The recordings of the phone conversations which included the ruling party members, the so-called “bombs”, triggered a political crisis in Macedonia which ultimately led to a change of power. Recording containing evidence of organised voter migration was released on 6 March 2015.

In one of the conversations, then Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska discussed the operation in which VMRO-DPMNE bused in ethnic Macedonians from the Prespa region of neighbouring Albania, issued them with ID cards and placed them temporarily in addresses in Macedonia until election day, when escorts took them to the polls to vote for the ruling party.

Balkan Insight reported at the time that 50 people were registered in a flat of 40 square meters, which Minister Jankuloska thought would arouse suspicion.

The allegations of the exact same practices are now being unveiled by the Serbian opposition. On 9 January, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party Dragan Đilas claimed that 53 persons had been registered to address in Belgrade where an abandoned house is located.

Another phone call released by Macedonian opposition in 2015 portrayed an alleged conversation between Prime Minister Gruevski and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski during the 2013 local election.

After Janakieski reported that the ruling party was lagging behind the opposition in the Skopje municipality of Centar, Gruevski rejoined: “If we had now these Prespans, [people from Prespa in Albania] we would have finished the job”, Balkan Insight reported.

Opposition in Serbia now also accuses the ruling SNS of organising voter migration to change the results of the local election in the capital city.

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