BALKANS & EASTERN EUROPE – October 2020


 

In Serbia, the new government is already old

 

On the 24th of October, the new Serbian government was announced. Led by Ana Brnabic, confirmed as Prime Minister, it is a national alliance between the only three parties that won seats in Parliament at elections on June 21: the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), dominating the political scene for years; the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), its traditional ally; the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS), a right-wing, populist party that had never been in Parliament before.

The government is made of 21 ministers plus 2 ministers without portfolio. With 11 women as ministers, it is the most gender-balanced cabinet ever in the region. But it will have a short life span. Just a few days before it was formed, the Serbian President and SNS leader Aleksandar Vucic announced that there will be snap parliamentary elections in April 2022. Vucic said it makes sense to couple regular presidential elections, scheduled on April 22, with the parliamentary vote. He also added that municipal elections in Belgrade, also planned for 2022, could be arranged for the same date.

Grouping the three electoral processes is an astute political game. Vucic needs to restore the legitimacy of Parliament after the main opposition parties boycotted general elections in June. They argued that the SNS, viewed as a corrupted and hegemonic party that has emptied Serbia’s democracy, did not offer equal conditions to take part in the electoral process. Vucic will try to persuade the opposition to take part in the 2022 vote, assuring them that the process will be transparent and will involve European observers to supervise it.

Having a challenged parliamentary vote and then a multiparty assembly is key to the Serbian President, who is reorienting the country’s foreign policy towards the West, as several analysts have recently noticed, among them Jelena Milic. A Parliament with a majority, an opposition and a dialectic between them, thus a normal Parliament, can help Vucic to boost his credibility among the EU countries and with the prospective US President, Joe Biden, reigniting the Europeanization process and talks with Kosovo to normalise economic and political relations.

The Serbian President needs an opposition in the Parliament, but this means that the overwhelming consensus of the SNS, which took 60,65% of the vote in June, will decrease. Merging presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in Belgrade, is the way through which the ruling party, by making its electoral machine work at all levels, will try to maximize its consensus.

But there is still a long way to 2022 e-day. In the meantime, Vucic will put himself centre stage, even more, as the exclusion from the government of the SPS leader Ivica Dacic could suggest. Having been Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the SNS governments, he has been a crucial figure in the current architecture of power, thus gaining some status, although not comparable with Vucic’s popularity. Anyway, for the President it might be convenient to stand alone on the stage ahead of the 2022 elections. Dacic has been appointed the Speaker of Parliament, somehow a downgrading.

It is too early to make predictions, but it is reasonable to think that the most challenging scenario for Vucic and the SNS will be the city of Belgrade in 2022. In Serbia’s political map, the capital city matters a lot. Having the majority in the city council raises chances of controlling the country. Since 2013, one year after it rose to power at national level, the SNS holds the town (the current mayor is Zoran Radojicic). It is still strong, but a sign of concern for Vucic and the SNS is that the boycott campaign for parliamentary elections reached its peak precisely in Belgrade. Only 35% of Belgradians voted, compared to a nationwide turnout of 50% less. What’s more, the creation of a new local party advocating a stronger commitment to environment and social rights (see the other Strategic Balkans analysis) could make the SNS goal to keep Belgrade, harder than expected.

 

Matteo Tacconi – Journalist and analyst, he covers the Balkans for a wide range of media networks. He worked as electoral observer for the OSCE/ODIHR in Albania, Macedonia, Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.