Serbia Is in a Political Crisis, Authorities Fail to Meet Obligations

Tanja Fajon, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee stated (11.12) to Radio Free Europe that Serbia is in a very delicate situation and in a kind of political crisis before the next spring’s parliamentary elections.

She added that democracy and media freedom in Serbia are severely violated, as national television channels do not treat all political parties equally, which is unacceptable.

During a roundtable discussion on the election conditions in Serbia held in Brussels and attended by Serbian opposition leaders, Fajon said that fair conditions should be created for elections in the coming years, adding that the current situation was far from ideal.

“The ruling parties are still not implementing the recommendations for free and fair elections. We see some progress in comparison to the last talks, but I would like that we see the progress in real life, and we still don’t”, Fajon said.

However, Fajon urged Serbian opposition leaders present in Brussels Dragan Djilas, Nebojsa Zelenovic and Dejan Nikolic to reconsider their parties’ decision to boycott dialogue with the ruling coalition. “Boycott can be a tool, but the Parliament is the place for changes and dialogue”, Fajon added.

Most opposition parties in Serbia have been boycotting meetings of the Serbian Parliament for more than a year due to, as they say, the behavior of the ruling coalition MPs, underlining they would also boycott parliamentary elections in the spring because of “lack of conditions for a free and fair vote”.

Tanja Fajon, the former EP rapporteur for Serbia and Vladimir Bilcik who is currently holding this position, also participated in talks (12.12) on the conditions for holding elections. The discussion was between Serbian authorities and part of the opposition with former MEPs Edward Kukan and Knut Fleckenstein.

According to their analysis, the situation after two rounds of talks shows that some progress has been made, however, more than 60 percent of the commitments accepted have not been fulfilled or have been partially fulfilled. “Clearly, significant steps have to be taken, especially in regard to freedom of the media and the role of public broadcasters” they said, warning that there was little time to improve the election conditions by implementing all obligations before the election campaign starts and suggested a review of the election time frame with full respect for the constitution and laws to allow the implementation of obligations and restore trust in the election framework.

Under current Serbian law, parliamentary elections must be scheduled by the president 90 days before the expiration of the incumbent parliamentary term, and voting must take place no less than 45 days and no more than 60 days after the elections are called. This Parliament was constituted on 3 June 2016.

Fajon and Bilcik said that the only way that the opposition which has decided to boycott the elections can present itself to the electorate was to join in the political and election process. They said that the implementation of the accepted obligations is the most important thing right now to ensure that the voters are sure that real changes and improvements have been achieved.

On the other hand, Vuk Jeremic, leader of the opposition People’s Party and Chairman of the Alliance for Serbia (SzS) group, said after a meeting between the European parliamentarians and the Serbian authorities at which he was not present, that “tonight, the illusion (about a possibility to take part in the next spring general elections) ended”. According to him, “there was no dilemma about SzS decision to boycott the elections”.

He addressed reporters after SzS leaders met the Euro-parliamentarians who tried to mediate between the ruling and opposition parties in implementing some changes that would enable “a free and fair vote” and persuade the opposition to take part. “We’ll continue to fight for the change of elections’ rules”. “As far as SzS is concerned this was the last meeting in this phase of the struggle for free and fair elections”, Jeremic added, reiterating the opposition’s request for a postponement of the elections.

The SzS boycotted all three rounds of talks in the Serbian parliament but had separate meetings with European Parliament (EP) representatives Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik.

The representative of the “1 in 5 million” organisation also met with Euro-parliamentarians on Thursday evening, and told reporters afterwards that the EP people “understood our message and were surprised with information we provided.” The organisation also advocates the boycott of the vote because the regime hasn’t accepted demands on changes of the election rules their expert team has drafted.

The youth organisation of the European People’s Party (YEPP), the largest youth political organisation in Europe, said on Wednesday it saw Serbia’s opposition call for election boycott as “irresponsible act which can damage democracy in Serbia”.

YEPP said it was concerned about some events during the opposition protests in Serbia and strongly condemned “previous calls for lynching of the President (Aleksandar Vucic) and other state officials”.

The Serbian ProgressiveParty (SNS) of President Vucic has been in power since 2012 and is an EPP associate member since 2016.

YEPP called on Serbia’s opposition to refrain from inflammatory statements and to take part in the inter-party dialogue under the European Parliament’s auspices.

They also advised people in Serbia to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

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