Cvijetin Milivojević, Owner of the Pragma PR agency – Pyrrhic victory: From landslide election result to fight for political survival

The next Serbian parliament, when constituted, will lack both legitimacy and legality. 

Both the main opposition parties that chose to boycott the parliamentary elections due to unfair electoral conditions, and the small opposition parties, allegedly Vučić’s instant political satellites which failed miserably in the past elections, have been thrown out of Serbian political institutions at national, regional and local level. Put bluntly, they received regime’s political kick in the butt.

They won’t even serve as a silent decoration for international dignitaries when they come to measure “the scope and quality of democracy” in Serbia. The political opposition, albeit a constitutional category, has now been reduced to an extra-institutional amorphous political mass which can, paradoxically, aspire to represent a significant portion of more than half of Serbian voters who chose not to participate in the recent elections (i.e. 60 per cent out of a total of 6.6 million potential voters).

“The opposition (Alice) does not live in the National Parliament of Serbia anymore”

With political leadership and organization, these voters could have changed the outcome of the elections.  Instead, about two million voters gave Aleksandar Vučić, as a “candidate to top all other candidates”, a land-slide victory in elections in which he did not formally participate (according to the Constitution, a President of the Republic does not have the right to participate in local or parliamentary election). Still, he won on all levels: from the elections for the state parliament, through the elections for the provincial assembly of Vojvodina, to the local, city and provincial elections.

On all election levels, the winning electoral ticket was called “Aleksandar Vučić – For our Children” (bearing an eerie resemblance to the German National Socialist Party slogan for the March 1936 elections “Unseren Kindern – Die Zukunft durch”). Interestingly enough, the winning electoral ticket does not even mention the name of Vučić’s governing party – the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) – nor the names of any other candidates.  The impression was that on June 21 Vučić personally ran for a seat in the National Parliament, as well as a seat in the Vojvodina Parliament, a counselor position in each of the 160 towns and cities, and for the mayor and president of all municipalities in Serbia, where the elections were held, notwithstanding the fact that (based on Serbian Constitution), as the President of the Republic and the President of the SNS party, he may not perform any other public function.

In short, given that the brunt of the true opposition boycotted the June 21 elections, Vučić played a friendly, sparring match, with 20 electoral tickets, of which only five or six were not his ‘satellites’, i.e. instant lists made up by the regime for single-use in the light of Mao-Tse-tung’s phrase “let a hundred flowers bloom“. Nonetheless, Vučić claimed that these were “historic elections”, the first in the world after the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding the election during the pandemic posed a special problem since, according to the laws of Serbia, jeopardizing public health is a criminal act. For reasons yet unknown, it appears the government’s anti-COVID Crisis Unit did not ensure that real data on the number of people infected with the virus and the death toll were communicated to the public and used for pandemic related decisions making. The fact that, a day after the elections, the reported numbers of newly infected people soared drastically, including numerous activists of the ruling party who, apparently, became infected during the election campaign, begs for an explanation.

The opposition criticized the regime for misusing the state of emergency declared to control the pandemic, for a ruthless functionary party campaign lead by the President of the Republic and his closest associates while violating electoral laws and abusing their state functions and public resources. The result of Vučić’s meddling with election process has had devastating impact on democracy in Serbia. Seats in the new Parliament were secured only by the electoral lists led by Alexander Vučić and by his longtime coalition partner the Serbian Socialist Party established by late Slobodan Milošević. Last minute changes to the electoral law, which lowered the electoral threshold from 5% to 3% only 15 days before the election, allowed the modest opposition party of the former water polo champion, Aleksandar Šapić, to also enter the Parliament.

So, what happens next? Based on the Constitution, as of June 3, Serbia does not have a legally elected parliament or government since their final term in office has expired on that date.

The next Serbian parliament, when constituted, will lack both the political legitimacy and legality. The President of the Republic, as the architect of this parliament imposed by the political force rather than the will of the people, could not provide him with the mandate needed for strategic decisions regarding state policy and identity issues, such as those related to the future of Kosovo and Metohija.

The new government, just like the previous one, will not be the executive branch led by the new prime minister appointed by the Parliament, but yet another government of Aleksandar Vučić. Despite the fact that the Serbian Constitution awards mostly ceremonial role to the President of the Republic, Aleksandar Vučić has usurped the executive power of the government, as well as important parts of the legislative and judicial power. That is why it does not really matter who will formally be at the helm of the Government since it is quite certain that the new Prime Minister will not be a politician of authority and credibility, but rather a puppet of Aleksandar Vučić.

Diplomatic reaction to his land-slide victory was subdued. Since 2012, when Vučić practically became the omnipotent ruler of Serbia, he received the fewest number of congratulatory notes from international leaders, even from states that traditionally enthusiastically welcomed his electoral victories.

For the first time, Vučić was not received by Vladimir Putin or Angela Merkel before the elections, while official Washington and Beijing refrained from “expressing enthusiasm” regarding Vučić’s victory. Three parliamentary caucuses in the European Parliament characterized these elections as undemocratic. For the first time since the accession negotiations with the EU have started, Serbia has failed to open a single new chapter during the last six-month rotating presidency.

What lies ahead is probably not a full four-year term for the new government but, rather, a shorter term, until the next presidential elections due in the spring of 2022. Or, as things appear now, even sooner. It’s Vučić’s turn now to make the next move. If he wanted to set the strongest electoral victory, he has accomplished exactly that. His own election controllers (the opposition did not supervise half of more than 8.000 polling stations) reported that his ticket received 62 per cent of the vote. Secondly, he repeatedly announced that this was the last time he’d let SNS use his name on their electoral ticket, and that he would resign from the helm of his mastodon party, and dedicate his time to the position he was elected to, the President of all Serbian citizens.

Given that the big opposition parties firmly stated their resolve not to participate in the elections until equal electoral conditions are created for all participants, the only democratic solution to the electoral impasse is to return to the source of the problem in the fall of 2018 when the activists of the ruling party beat one of the opposition leaders, Borko Stefanović, This triggered widespread civil unrest in which the protestors demanded from Vučić to organize round table talks between the government and the opposition to reach an agreement on fair electoral conditions. The regime abused goodwill services provided by George Soros’ Open Society Fund and the European Parliament, and did everything in its power to render the round table concept meaningless.

That is why this election victory is probably a Pyrrhic victory for Vučić, after which his political support curve will become increasingly flatter. Although this seemed unbelievable at first, it now appears possible that talks between the authorities and the opposition may be his political lifeline.

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