Serbian Opposition Protests Belgrade Election, Claims Nonresidents Voted

BELGRADE — Hundreds of opposition protesters took to the streets of Belgrade on December 18 after the city’s election commission indicated the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) list of President Aleksandr Vucic had won the capital’s municipal elections, following results by the national authority that also gave victory to Vucic’s coalition in Serbia’s concurrent parliamentary vote.

Alleged irregularities in the election led outside observers, including from Germany and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to express concerns about the process.

Protesters and supporters of the pro-European Serbia Against Violence coalition gathered in front of the election commission and city assembly buildings demanding that the Belgrade municipal elections be annulled, accusing the ruling party of illegally busing in people from other regions and from outside the country to vote in the capital.

“We do not want, and must not accept, the elections in Belgrade because they are outside the law: People from other countries have been used,” Marinika Tepic, a representative of the Serbia Against Violence coalition, said in front of the Republic Election Commission (RIK) building.

Serbia Against Violence’s Miroslav Aleksic late on December 17 had called for the annulment of the results of voting in the capital, saying that thousands of “people who are not from Belgrade were brought in to vote in Belgrade.”

“Considering that more than 40,000 people without legal residence in Belgrade were brought in to support the SNS list, which drastically changed the electoral will of Belgraders, we demand the annulment of the elections in the city of Belgrade and the repetition of voting for the city assembly,” the coalition said.

Tepic and Miroslav Aleksic later announced they would start a hunger strike until the Belgrade election was annulled.

Serbs on December 17 voted on both the 250-seat National Assembly and on municipal posts throughout the country, including in the capital, Belgrade.

According to the latest preliminary results of the City Election Commission, the SNS list won 39.3 percent of the vote (49 mandates) in the Belgrade elections, and Serbia Against Violence won 34.3 percent (42 mandates).

Officials said the final results of both parliamentary and local elections in Belgrade are still pending and could take months to determine, given that some objections filed could lead to the repeating of elections in particular precincts.

In the nationwide parliamentary vote, the latest RIK data, based on results from 95.7 percent of polling stations, shows that the SNS received 46.75 percent of the vote and Serbia Against Violence won 23.52 percent, prompting SNS to declare victory.

Some 5,400 foreign observers monitored the election, along with several Serbian nongovernmental organizations.

The OSCE monitoring mission said Vucic’s involvement in the election and pro-Vucic media bias made for a campaign that it deemed unfair.

“The decisive involvement of the president dominated the electoral processes and the use of his name by one of the candidate lists, together with bias in the media, contributed to an uneven playing field,” it said.

Germany said the alleged irregularities in the election process were “unacceptable” for a country aspiring to join the European Union.

“Serbia has voted, but the OSCE has reported abuse of public funds, intimidation of voters, and cases of vote buying,” the German Foreign Ministry said. “That is unacceptable for a country with EU candidate status.”

The United States, which had monitors from its embassy at various sites in the capital, on December 18 did not immediately comment on specific allegations, but said it would work with Serbian officials to push forward the democratic process in the country.

“We welcome the opportunity to continue working with Serbia’s next government to strengthen democratic governance and rule of law, and advance regional stability,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

He added that he was award of the OSCE findings and that “we’re reviewing those and I wouldn’t want to comment while that review is ongoing.”

If the parliamentary results hold up, the SNS would win an absolute majority in the country’s 250-mandate National Assembly and would be able to form a government on its own.

The nongovernmental Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) and the Ipsos agency saw the results as being much tighter, saying on December 17 its data showed the SNS had won 38.4 percent of the vote, with the main opposition coalition taking 35.1 percent.

Daniel Serwer, a professor of politics at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, told RFE/RL that “there is no question” the SNS won the vote, which he criticized as “free but unfair.”

“[Vucic] used the patronage of the government to reinforce his vote,” Serwer said. “He’s created a free but not fair electoral system which favors himself.”

The independent Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability (CRTA) said on December 17 it had seen indications that voters had been brought in from Bosnia-Herzegovina and other former Yugoslav republics.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, head of the Socialist Party (SPS), congratulated the SNS on the election results and pledged that his party would continue to cooperate with the ruling party.

The SPS has been part of the ruling coalition since the SNS took power in 2012.

Dacic added that the SPS was dissatisfied with its results in the voting and said that “it is necessary to find a new leader of the SPS.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the SNS had won the election and said: “We welcome this achievement from Mr. Vucic.” Peskov referred to Serbia as a “fraternal nation” and said the elections would lead to the “further strengthening of friendship” between the two countries.

Vucic has tried to maintain good relations with Moscow even as Serbia seeks closer ties with the European Union. Serbia has not joined the bloc and other Western powers in imposing sanctions on Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vucic dissolved the country’s 250-seat National Assembly on November 1, less than halfway through its four-year mandate, in the face of mounting pressure following two mass shootings in May. The shootings, which killed 19 people, triggered angry protests and calls for Vucic and other national leaders to resign.

After the SNS refused to implement many of the demands of the opposition-led protests, the main pro-European opposition parties agreed to run together under the Serbia Against Violence banner. (Radio Free Europe)