A Long Wait for the Same Result: A New Government is Formed in Serbia

By: Dejana Saric

Contributor: Heather A. Conley

Nearly four months after parliamentary elections in which the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vucic gained a supermajority of seats, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced the formation of the new government. Speaking in the parliament on October 28, Brnabic called the new government one of political and economic continuity and counted amongst its top priorities: protecting citizens’ health during the pandemic; fighting against organized crime; increasing Serbia’s economic progress; and, speeding up the reforms needed for EU accession. While music to the ears of the European Union, this government of ‘continuity’ is unlikely to pursue these priorities with zeal. The new government’s greatest political challenge, according to Brnabic, would be its troubled dialogue with Kosovo. 
Opposition groups largely boycotted the June election on the grounds that the conditions for free and fair elections did not exist. Worried that the opposition’s boycott would reduce the legitimacy of the results, the government lowered the voting threshold to enter parliament to three percent ahead of the election. Despite this, only SNS and two other parties passed this threshold: the coalition led by the Socialist Party of Serbia (a traditional ally of the SNS) and the recently-formed Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS), both of whom have entered into the governing coalition with the SNS, making it even stronger. National minorities—whose entrance into parliament is not subject to a voting threshold—hold 19 out of 250 seats and six of these members currently represent the sole opposition in the 250-seat chamber. 
A description of continuity masks a requirement for loyalty. Many of the key figures loyal to President Vucic have either retained their posts or swapped one ministry for another. But there were some surprises. Former Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, an outspoken and virulent nationalist who led Serbia’s international derecognition campaign of Kosovo, will no longer hold a cabinet position in the government but is now the Speaker of the parliament. While widely viewed as a demotion, it’s unclear what this shift represents.  It could suggest that only Vucic and SNS can be the leading nationalistic voices in the country, diminishing Dacic’s voice. Or, it could simply suggest that in his new role Dacic will preside over a weak institution almost entirely controlled by the government coalition. The other “new” element is the government’s gender parity, with 11 of the cabinet positions being held by women as well as the continuation of Prime Minister Brnabic. Again, a compelling data point to the European Union (this parity is not seen across other EU member states) but one which does not truly address the systemic underrepresentation of women in Serbian politics.
With his power further consolidated in an essentially one-party state, President Vucic has already announced that he will bring forth early parliamentary elections by April 2022, to coincide with presidential elections and local elections in Belgrade. Although Vucic claims this will provide an impetus for quick action and reforms by policymakers, it will set the terms of the next election in a way that is favorable to Vucic and the SNS, all under the guise of democratic legitimacy. Holding presidential, parliamentary, and local elections at the same time will allow the SNS to cast Vucic as the face of all three, which it believes is its winning strategy. Moreover, the new government will be under pressure over the next two years as it attempts to deal with a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic costs, and a controversial dialogue with Kosovo which will continue to galvanize nationalistic sentiments at home. Should the government of continuity not address citizen dissatisfaction, early elections in 2022 will allow Vucic to blame this loyal government and a Dacic-controlled parliament while presenting himself (once more) as the savior of Serbian politics.