On June 7, the presidency of the strongest political party in Serbia that won absolute majority in 2016 parliamentary elections unanimously decided to support Mr. Aleksandar Vučić, former prime minister and newly elected president to propose his successor himself. This was more or less expected. Public, opposition parties and number of civil society organisations were accusing Mr. Vučić during the recent presidential campaign that running for the presidency is his strategy to accumulate the power, strongly influencing and controlling other branches of the government.

 

When media started rumouring about the possibility to have current president of state, Tomislav Nikolić as a presidential candidate again, we witnessed an immediate reaction from the state controlled media that quickly gathered a number of self-proclaimed political analysts, journalists and alleged independent experts who described Mr. Nikolić’s decision to run for the presidency as an attack on the state!

The beginning of the campaign was marked by the video ad, that proved to be plagiarism, featuring Mr. Vučić as a passenger in the plane, trying to explain to an average Serbian citizen that cohabitation, which can serve as an effective checks-and-balances mechanism, is extremely dangerous for the country and so-called “successful reforms”. However, checks and balances are what Serbia desperately needs in order to ensure that no one in the political arena becomes too powerful. It is the unlimited and uncontrolled power of political actors what makes them a part of the problem rather than a part of solution, causing a huge gap and mistrust between them and citizens.

Regardless very limited economic growth and several opened chapters within EU accession process, Serbia is deeply stuck into corruption, clientelism and poverty.

Serbia has all of the most significant features of a partitocratic state for a long time, given that the political parties have a profound impact on every segment of social life, causing the total politicisation of society. It is important to underline that a partitocratic state is not a recent invention. It probably goes back to the times of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, being inherited by the newly established multiparty system in 1990 and successfully maintained throughout last two and a half decades.

Regardless very limited economic growth and several opened chapters within EU accession process, Serbia is deeply stuck into corruption, clientelism and poverty. The ‘democracy score’ assigned to Serbia by Freedom House in 2016 was at its lowest level since 2005. Negative developments were recorded in electoral process, democratic governance, and media freedom.

The state of democracy has been stagnating in the countries of the Western Balkans over the past 10 years, as these countries did not make any progress to the state of consolidated democracy. According to the latest Freedom House report, Balkan countries experienced additional democratic setbacks in 2016 because of corruption, political interference in the justice system and uncompetitive elections. This report also warns about the re-emergence of populist authoritarianism in the region. Unfortunately, this is happening in the moment when populism is becoming the most popular game in the town globally, making Balkan’s context that proved to be fruitful ground for populist movements even more complex.

Mr. Aleksandar Vučić won the April presidential elections by a landslide. However, underneath this clear victory and seemingly fair elections lies a plethora of deeply problematic issues, to name just a few: absolute dominance over the media (media analysis agency Kliping has found that an astonishing 51.15 per cent of air time dedicated to the presidential elections has been given to Mr. Vučić), threatening voters with job losses, extreme clientalism, massive negative campaign using a network of “attacking dogs” etc. Thus, one should not be surprised that thousands and thousands of young people in Serbia were protesting across the country against this victory of Mr. Vučić and what they named as a dictatorship. These are not the only protests that took place in Serbia in last 12 months. People were also protesting in Belgrade against the illegal demolition of buildings in the Savamala quarter during an April night in 2016 and the government’s failure to prosecute those responsible. Citizens and opposition were also protesting during the Presidential Inauguration of Aleksandar Vučić on 31 May.

Serbian political scene needs “ideologisation” rather than “unification” in order to reset the system to the true democratic mode in 2000s.

2017 presidential elections also brought about a new political player in the scattered opposition camp led by the Democratic Party, which is constantly failing to reform itself and rethink its policies. Former Ombudsman and runner-up in the April Presidential Elections, Sasa Janković, launched the new political movement called Free Citizens of Serbia, putting a social justice at the top of the movement’s agenda and announcing establishment of local branches across the country. Serbian opposition parties tried to unite before the presidential elections, to support Sasa Jankovic as a joint candidate, but after several meetings, they decided to give up on this idea.

Playing on the unity of Serbian opposition and its joint participation in the elections, was a basic strategy for removing Socialist Party of Serbia from the power throughout 1990s to build a genuine democracy. However, Serbian political scene needs “ideologisation” rather than “unification” in order to reset the system to the true democratic mode in 2000s. In other words, Serbian political parties lack clearly formulised and widely agreed and internalised ideology as a basis for their policies, platforms and action. In the absence of such system of interconnected values, principles, beliefs and doctrines, pure (self)interest dominates parties’ reasoning, and the behaviours, while citizens are left without a base for making meaningful electoral decisions.

 

Photo: Fotosr52 / Shutterstock.com