By Mihailo Jovičević
Another election night has ended and it certainly did not bring bad luck to Aleksandar Vucic or his SNS party.
On the contrary… By absorbing the Socialist Party of Serbia’s voters and the rise of Dr Branimir Nestorović, famous for his anti- COVID vaccine statements, the Progressives strengthened their grip on that part of the electorate that did not support the Serbia against Violence coalition. There are many negatives, but there are also positive sides to this.
First, the turnout. The mantra that the opposition needs five percent more voters in these elections to reduce the SNS to a figure with which they cannot easily (or at all) come to power turned out to be partially correct.
The turnout in the 2022 parliamentary elections was 58.6 percent, and in this one, it seems, was under 60 percent. Of course, we can’t be sure, because the State Electoral Commission – an institution that hasn’t really existed since the previous elections when Vučić took over the job of controlling the election process and counting votes – refused to give the final turnout figures for these elections. The last estimate of the CRTA NGO says that the turnout was about 59 percent.
The same applies to the elections in Belgrade, where 57 percent turned out last year, so even though more voters turned out in Belgrade (probably) than that in this election cycle, it is still not a 5 percent increase. Therefore, despite the attempt to mobilize the opposition and the attempt to mobilize citizens through the ProGlas initiative, there was no significant jump in turnout. This should be seen as part of the reason for the defeat.
Vucic completely absorbed the SPS
What do the comparisons of the results from last year and this year say at the national level? Last year, the coalition gathered around SNS won 42.3 percent of the votes and their coalition partner SPS (the Socialist Party of Serbia) won 11.1 percent. This year painted a different picture – according to the latest CESID-released results, SNS was at 46.3 percent and the voter support for the SPS is almost halved – only 6.6. That is why, rightly, (the SPS president) Ivica Dacic announced that he would step down as the party leader. We shouldn’t really bet on Dacic resigning, but there is certainly ample reason for him to do so.
What happened in Belgrade?
Several media outlets reported that voters from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entity the Republic of Srpska had been arriving at the Belgrade Arena in an organized manner since Sunday morning. They told gathered reporters that they didn’t know why they were not voting in their own cities.
A large number of vehicles from the Republic of Srpska arrived in front of the Arena in Belgrade. According to the reporters at the scene, the people from the Republic of Srpska were given directions as to which polling station in the Arena they had to cast their vote. When asked why they voted there and not at their place of residence, one of the voters said that he did not know. Once the members of the State Election Committee came to the Arena to check the reports about illegal polling stations being set up there, they were physically prevented from entering the premises.
Serbia against Violence coalition claims that they have won at least as many votes in Belgrade as the SNS and that up to 40,000 voters were brought to Belgrade to vote for the SNS. If this is true, that would significantly change the election results in Belgrade.
What happened to the right wing?
Dveri and Zavetnici – which together won almost 7 percent of the votes in Belgrade last year – were around the election threshold this time around. According to CeSID’s data, Vuk Jeremić’s People’s Party won less than 1 percent at the state election which means it has to return the state funds it got for the election campaign, while the Radulović-Tadić coalition, a party of unclear ideological orientation, won 1.3% of votes. Both results are deemed as disappointing.
Once again, we saw that the right-wing parties, if not united, can hardly be a significant factor in the elections, but there is something else too – Nestorović literally stole their voters and their ideology and seasoned it with conspiracy theories.
First, the bad or rather the worst news – the opposition has no tactics to deal with election fraud. Regardless of how many votes were “imported”, how many were bribed and how many were forced to vote for the SNS, the opposition cannot peel them away from the SNS. A new strategy and perhaps new people are needed to solve this issue because no matter how many examples of election fraud were uncovered, the fact is that the opposition cannot win in even Belgrade if it cannot protect the election result. The opposition voters can now rightfully ask themselves – who am I supposed to vote for anyway?
There was definitely no marked spike in turnout in this election, despite the heavy campaign effort. It only confirms that there cannot be a fair election race in a country without free media, but we already know that. What we didn’t know is that this “window” towards voters, those who don’t have the opportunity to follow free media, is not just tiny but it actually doesn’t exist. Outdoor gatherings and forums, a model that the ProGlas initiative used to get in touch with voters, simply don’t work in Serbia in the 21st century. Why they don’t work in Serbia, but work in, say, Poland or Hungary, requires a deeper analysis.
It’s also bad that another opportunity for the opposition to unite was missed (there were 18 political parties in the Democratic Opposition in Serbia and they barely managed to overthrow Milošević), and that’s something that hit Jeremić, Tadić and Radulović the hardest, who now have to think carefully about their political future. To be honest, there is no room for any big contemplation – this defeat is total and it is realistic to expect that the three of them should withdraw from politics. Of course, the fact that it is realistic to expect their withdrawal does not mean that it will happen. On the contrary…
So, what’s good in all of this?
First of all, the opposition did win more votes than in the previous elections, so now there is still a possibility of forming a government in Belgrade without the SNS (no matter how small it may be). Not only does this possibility exist, but in any other country it would be realistic for a broad coalition of parties – from the Greens to Nestorović – to overthrow the SNS, which doesn’t have any coalition potential after numerous affairs their members were involved in and the brutal attitude they had towards to all coalition partners (like the SPS). However, we are living in Serbia and such thinking is not realistic here.
Another positive thing is the good election result of the DSS (the Democratic Party of Serbia), which shows that the party of the right orientation can successfully cooperate with the civil opposition and that such cooperation paid off. The accusations against Jovanović (head of the DSS) that he was too close to the pro-European opposition were in vain – both ideologically and personally. The DSS had a clearly positioned policy, used their media time smartly and has a leader who has the undoubted personal charisma.
In the end, a positive thing is that for the first time in a long time, the public saw the outlines of what should be the intellectual and cultural elite of a free, post-SNS Serbia on the political scene – from actor Dragan Bjelogrlić to academician Kostić. All of them are clearly against the current regime’s way of governing and they all expressed that clearly. Last but not least, it seems that many people agree with them as they collected 180,000 signatures of like-minded Serbian citizens.
This post is also available in: Italiano