Thousands of people in Serbia protest against PM Vučić's victory

  • Tomáš Krajňák
  • 11.4.2017 17:19

Although at first glance Vucic's victory seems clear and indisputable, his opponents emphasise the democratic deficit that accompanied the election and fear it may get worse.

Current Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić was elected the new president of Serbia on Sunday 2 April and is going to assume office at the end of May. His transition from prime minister to president was already confirmed by the first round of the election, when Vučić secured a majority of around 55 % of the votes. Although at first glance the victory seems clear and indisputable, Vučić's opponents emphasize the democratic deficit that accompanied the election and fear it may become even worse. The post-election week was therefore marked by protests of thousands of people in major Serbian cities.

The polarization of Serbian society, which became more apparent and amplified by the presidential election, reflects the global trends in recent years and months. The most visible resistance against Vučić comes from the young and liberal groups - students and other liberal-minded protesters flooded the streets of the main urban centres, such as Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis, as well as other major cities. Vučić's supporters, on the other hand, come from more rural and conservative environments. The actual situation is, naturally, not this straightforward and the opposition appears to be fragmented - their current protests as well as the pre-election campaign failed to find a common leader who would be able to mobilize the opposition.

However, what the protesters have in common are their concerns about the possible autocratic direction of the country. The presidential post is of a rather formal character in Serbia, but the flaws in the Serbian political system could allow Vučić to remain in power and further strengthen the post. The new president does not have to give up his position in the party and since the parliamentary candidates are chosen through a closed system of political parties, the composition of the Parliament's majority will be determined by the Serbian Progressive Party, led by Vučić. In addition, the presidential post will allow him to appoint the prime minister, who could then serve as an executor of Vučić's will. However, the biggest concern is caused by Vučić's control of the media, who were strongly leaning in his favour during the election campaign. Intimidation of voters and bribery are also being mentioned as more reasons why the protesters consider the election rigged.

These accusations are certainly not compatible with the accession process to the EU. Vučić would like to prepare Serbia to join the bloc by 2019. It seems that the main representatives of the EU are currently in favour of this step and hope for the continuation of reforms, while they also stress the growing corruption in the country. However, Vučić also wants to maintain traditionally strong relations with Russia and whether his balancing between the East and Westcoupled with the Kosovo problem, might hurt the EU accession remains a question. His liberal opponents point out the parallel between Vučić and Putin or Erdogan when it comes to possible dictatorial direction of the country. However, Vučić responded to the protests calmly, noting that as long as they are peaceful everyone is entitled to express their opinion. The absence of a clear opposition leader raises doubts about the potential long-term activity of the protesters. However, if the protests should continue, Vučić's rhetoric could become more forceful and pro-"Eastern".

About author: Tomáš Krajňák


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