Parliamentary Elections

June 21, 2020


Results

President Vucic’s alliance, led by the SNS, won 60.65% of the vote, giving it a supermajority with 188 seats. The Socialist Party of Serbia-United Serbia Coalition (SPS-JS) came in second with 10.4% of the vote and 32 seats, and the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS) won 3.8% (11 seats). The ethnic minority party Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians won 2.2% of the ethnic minority vote and thus garnered 9 seats (allocated to minority groups). Official turnout was 50.3%. President Vucic’s SNS now has even tighter control of the political landscape and the state apparatus.

The election’s legitimacy was tainted by the opposition boycott and by both the OSCE and watchdog CRTA’s assessment that irregularities had doubled since the 2016 election (vote-buying, multiple voting by a single person), and that without these, turnout would have been closer to 45%.

Background

  • Unicameral legislature in parliamentary constitutional republic; 250 seats in the National Assembly elected for 4-year terms.
  • Members elected through a closed party list proportional vote; party threshold was lowered from 5% to 3% ahead of these elections (threshold does not apply to minority parties); 40% of a party list must be female.
  • Incumbent: Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, currently heads the governing coalition with several smaller parties.
  • Major opposition and activist parties are boycotting the elections on the grounds that they are neither free nor fair. Voter turnout is expected to be around 45%.

 

Contenders

  • Serbian Progressive Party (SNS): largest party in government, right-wing, populist; led by President Vucic; SNS has stoked nationalist sentiment related to Kosovo and highlighted a dispute with Montenegro over the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church to gain public support. Promotes pro-Russian and pro-Chinese policies while simultaneously keeping avenues open toward eventual EU membership, despite increased Euroskepticism emanating from President Vucic.
  • Socialist Party of Serbia—United Serbia Coalition (SPS-JS): both parties are in the current governing coalition; SPS is a center-left, populist party and JS is a center-right, nationalistic, and conservative party; despite ideological differences, both parties are running together on a joint list led by Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Dragan Markovic Palma, respectively; denying Kosovo’s independence and recognition has been a significant platform for both parties; SPS-JS will continue to work with SNS in a new government.
  • Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS): center-right, conservative; led by Aleksandar Sapic, president of one of the largest municipalities in Serbia; recently formed political party in its first parliamentary elections; hopes to draw voters from the ruling coalition and the opposition; will not boycott elections, earning it criticism from the opposition parties which are.
  • Movement of Free Citizens (PSG): center-left, liberal; PSG is one of the major opposition parties in Serbia and has supported months of anti-government protests in 2019; it originally announced that it would boycott elections but changed course in May.
  • Serbian Radical Party(SRS): far-right, ultra-nationalist; led by Vojislav Seselj, a politician previously convicted of war crimes; Euroskeptic, pro-Russia.

Political entities boycotting the elections:

  • Alliance for Serbia (SzS): wide spectrum of prominent opposition parties in Serbia from the center-left (such as Stranka Slobode I Pravde lead by former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas and the Demokratska Stranka) to the far-right (such as Euroskeptic Dveri).
  • Don’t Drown Belgrade: citizen activist group which is organizing a series of forums (under the banner “Serbia Against Dictatorship”) in cities across Serbia to discuss the democratic condition in the country.

 

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • Serbia is not a NATO member and does not wish to join, but it cooperates with the Alliance. In 2019 the country adopted a new Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO.
  • Serbia has become known as one of the most welcoming countries in Europe for Chinese investments (since 2012, Chinese investment have totaled over $9.5 billion) and President Vucic has been vocally supportive of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
  • Serbia has received military assistance from Russia in the form of MiG-29 fighter jets the Pantsir S1 air-defense system and in 2019 signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • After the Serbian elections are concluded, President Vucic will travel to Moscow and then to Washington D.C., where he and Kosovar President Hashim Thaci have been invited to the White House for normalization talks. President Vucic has repeatedly stated that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo’s independence, a critical step in the normalization process. In 2018, Presidents Vucic and Thaci had jointly described a plan to reinvigorate the normalization process which centered around territorial exchanges, which many experts fear would risk destabilizing the entire region.

 

Key Issues to Watch

  • While in theory Serbia remains on a European path and support for joining the EU is high among the Serbian people, EU membership remains a distant prospect for Serbia. President Vucic has used increasingly anti-EU rhetoric while highlighting Serbia’s close relationships with China and Russia, particularly during the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The U.S. NGO Freedom House has recently downgraded Serbia from a democracy to a “transitional or hybrid regime,” noting increasing levels of corruption and state capture, declining media freedom, and strongman tactics by the government. Election turn-out may decrease due to opposition and civil society boycott of the elections, which may be used to question the legitimacy of the next government. However, the near total control of the media by the government and a splintered opposition ensure that the SNS party and its coalition partners will return to government, perhaps in an even stronger position than before the elections.
  • The Serbia-Kosovo dialogue has been a prominent feature of the election campaign and closely covered by the press, with both President Vucic and Foreign Minister Dacic emphasizing that they are protecting and defending vital Serbian interests. Both have also sought to highlight the important geopolitical role Serbia plays vis-à-vis China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union.

 

Polls

Polls from May 2020 place President Vucic’s SNS significantly in the lead at 61%. The SPS—JS coalition is expected to come in second, at 13.5%, followed by SPAS at just below 5%.1 The lowered vote threshold makes it difficult to assess which parties will make it into parliament as polling around 3% is so close to the margin of error.