Serbia to Held Elections During Pandemic

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that parliamentary elections would be held on June 21. Speaking after a meeting held on May 4-th with officials of parties planning to field candidates, Vucic said that he accepted a proposal from some of those parties because they need to have 38 days to campaign before the elections.  

The president said that it’s certain that there will be no large-scale gatherings in May, “especially not in closed spaces”. He added that the holding of gatherings in June will depend on the views of epidemiologists and on the health of the nation.  

Vucic said that the availability of notaries public to notarize the signatures parties need to collect to field candidates is a problem. He said that the parties agreed that municipal officials can also notarize those signatures.  

The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic, Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) leader Ivica Dacic, United Serbia leader Dragan Markovic-Palma, Nova Stranka leader Zoran Zivkovic, SPAS leader Aleksandar Sapic, Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Milos Jovanovic, Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) leader Istvan Pastor, Freedom and Reconciliation Party leader Muamer Zukorlic, representatives of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Movement “Zavetnici”, United Democratic Serbia coalition and “1 in 5 Million” Movement. Nine lists of candidates have been submitted to the Republic Election Commission.  

Serbian opposition leader Dragan Djilas declared that the conditions are not in place to hold free and fair elections in Serbia. “The population of Serbia has been living in a dictatorship for the past eight years which is why the opposition has decided to boycott the elections. I read EU High Representative Josep Borell’s statement that a boycott is not the solution. Of course it isn’t. The solution is to allow all citizens to express their free will”, he said.

The European Union’s top diplomat Borell expressed concern (04.05) over the political situation in Serbia and called for a lowering of tension prior to what he said are important elections. Speaking about the opposition decision not to field candidates in the coming parliamentary elections, Borell said that he thinks a boycott is not a viable option.

The member of the European Parliament Tanja Fajon made an advise that  it would be wise not to organize elections in Serbia before the coronavirus pandemic ends because the situation is not suitable for quick elections. Fajon, Chairwoman of the European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Serbia Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committee, said that a decision on the elections is up to the Serbian authorities and warned of what she called a serious escalation of tension through the media. We see protests and a serious escalation on the streets and rooftops, she said. “Society is very much divided. We should say clearly that politicians bear the responsibility to avoid using inflammatory language, oppose hate speech, avoid more social divisions and not deceive the public during and after the election campaign”, she said. According to her, the first thing that has to be done is improve election conditions. “A radical step needs to be taken in regard to the media, the role of public broadcasters along with an urgent de-escalation of tension”, she added.

The opposition Alliance for Serbia (Savet za Srbiju) leader Janko Veselinovic told (07.05) that the organization’s decision to boycott the coming elections is final. “We decided at a SzS Presidency meeting three days ago to remain firm in the boycott because the conditions have not changed and are much worse than in April”, adding that another important reason not to change the decision is because of the ongoing pandemic. “Everyone from the authorities and opposition who calls voters to turn out for the June 21 elections is consciously risking their health”, Veselinovic said.  

The leader of the Movements for Free Citizens (Pokret Slobodnih Gradjana), a famous actor Sergej Trifunovic, announced (08.05) his party would take part in the forthcoming general, provincial and local elections due on June 21. “We are aware that not a single election condition has changed for a better. On the contrary, all is six fold worse. But, the vote during the rule of (Serbia’s President) Aleksandar Vucic will never be fair”, Trifunovic said, explaining the latest decision. He called on other opposition parties to unite and run in the elections.

However, the largest opposition umbrella group, the Alliance for Serbia has reiterated it will boycott the ballot.

Some analysts believe the PSG decision may hamper the boycott, but SzS says that won’t happen and insists the voting can jeopardize people’s health since the coronavirus won’t be over by June. According to Bojan Klacar, the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) Executive Director, change mind of PSG and take part in the elections was not surprising, but might affect other opposition parties to reconsider the boycott.

The noise protests at 8:05 pm for 14-th night were staged across the country to express dissatisfaction with the way the authorities were handling the coronavirus pandemic. The state of emergency and the catastrophic running of the state has shown Serbia’s regime’s character which has gone from the dictatorship to a bold tyranny, and it is time for a revolt, according to a civil activist Srdjan Milivojevic.

The nightly Noise Against Dictatorship protest was held in front of the Serbian presidency building in Belgrade on May 7th, the first night without a curfew. A University professor Cedomir Cupic said that “Everything in this country is subjected to one man. The quarantine period showed he became the owner of our lives and deaths… He was on TVs with national frequency all the time. That deserves a revolt, regardless of how many people will turn out.”

The Youth Organization of Serbia’s opposition Democratic Party (Demokratska Stranka) wrote an open letter to Tanja Fajon, warning her about the continued deterioration of democracy in the country. They clarified there was a threat of “an escalation of the new atmosphere” in the society, created, by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska Napredna Stranka), led by the head of state Aleksandar Vucic. “It’s clear he will continue with the autocratic rule and that he sees the Parliament as a tool to legitimize his will and decisions, and not as the highest legislative body”, the letter to Fajon said.

European Parliament members Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik called for a lowering of tensions between parties and the media in Serbia and the country’s return to pro-European policies. In a reaction to recent incidents, including a violent event in front of the Serbian Parliament and the announcement of elections on 21 June, they said that the role of the media is more important than ever. “Due to the consequences of the COVID-19 that will lead to restrictions on the normal conditions for carrying out the electoral campaign, the role of media is more important than ever. In this regard, a step-change in addressing the area of media and the role and regulation of the public broadcasters is crucial for a successful electoral process”, the statement said and expressed concern about the polarization of the media, their use for political and personal attacks and an escalation of tensions.

“Let us be clear, it is the responsibility of all politicians to avoid inflammatory language, to counter hate-speech, to avoid aggravating social divisions by respecting political opponents, and not to mislead the public with disinformation in the media before, during and after the electoral campaign”, they said.

“We call on politicians in public and through the media to de-escalate tensions and re-focus on putting forward policy agendas that are pro-European and in the spirit of democratic society and that promotes development of the country and prosperity of the Serbian people. We call on the media to report objectively and professionally in the interest of the citizens.

“We call on all political forces and citizens to engage in the electoral process as to ensure the widest possible representation and promotion of different ideas and contributions which reinforce pluralism and strengthen democracy. As the country emerges from the extraordinary COVID-19 lock-down, it is more important than ever that all political forces and citizens have full confidence in the integrity of the electoral process. Nobody should be exposed to any unnecessary risks when performing their political campaigns and in casting their votes”, they added.

“We continue to monitor closely the conditions for holding parliamentary elections and expect the authorities to fully implement all of the commitments made in the three rounds of the Inter-Party Dialogue”, the statement said.

The European Union Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said (07.05) the next report on the development of the situation in Serbia would be published by the end of June and would refer to the MEP’s letter. In his answer to the letter, which is a form of control of the European Parliament (EP) over the European Commission, Várhelyi said the Commission was carefully monitoring the situation in Serbia, adding the current priority was the fight against the pandemic.

“The media freedom is essential at any time”, Várhelyi said, adding the EU accession process with Serbia continued. “Bearing that in mind, we continue to oversee the situation in Serbia and assess its progress. The conditions for the EU membership haven’t changed. As you are aware, the overall speed of Serbia’s process in negotiations with the EU depends on the implementation of reforms in the key area of the rule of law. We’ll assess the situation in the light of the latest development in our annual reports to be published in June”, Várhelyi said.

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