The Centre for Contemporary Politics / European Western Balkans has released its fourth annual report on the state of democracy in Serbia.
The report titled “The State of Democracy in Serbia 2020” provides an overview of the situation across five criteria for EU membership established in Copenhagen, as well as the areas on which the European Commission provides its assessment of candidate countries: elections, parliament, governance, civil society and freedom of expression.
Referring to the parliamentary and local elections held on 21 June, the Centre states that significant irregularities and controversies were detected in several aspects, including the process of collecting signatures for the electoral rolls and the annulment of votes in polling stations, as well as changes in electoral laws during the election year.
Furthermore, the report states that the democratic nature of the electoral process has been disrupted by two factors. The first refers to the decision of the majority of the opposition to boycott the elections, while the second highlights the suspicion that the ruling party has abused the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
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The final result of this year’s elections in the report was defined as an “unprecedented result” in the past 20 years.
According to the Centre, the lowering of the electoral threshold in the electoral year is also contestable, as well as the modification of the electoral law which allowed not only notaries, but also municipal and provincial administrations to register the signatures of citizens on the electoral lists.
Although the electoral campaign was formally suspended during the state of emergency, the report said that “the problematic role of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić”, who was not formally a candidate in these elections, emerged.
The National Parliament’s work was characterized by the boycott of the majority of opposition deputies. Subsequently, the state of parliamentarism in Serbia was jeopardized in the first half of the year by the failure of the National Parliament to meet during the state of emergency.
The new parliament has not yet been formed three months although it’s been after the elections and, according to the report, there are no objective obstacles to this.
Although Serbia’s accession to the European Union is, at least formally, the main objective of foreign policy, some statements by state officials during the state of emergency have cast a shadow over the process.
Criticism was levelled at the protests in July where it is claimed that the police did not use excessive force, then at the reaction in the case of the arrest of Aleksandar Obradovic, a Krusik worker, and the arrest of journalist Ana Lalic.
The report also dealt with the institution of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and the Protection of Personal Data, as well as the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency.
The development of civil society organizations has also been restricted. There was pressure on researchers, activists and journalists, intimidation and discrediting campaigns against NGOs.
The most serious case of jeopardizing the freedom of civil society organizations was characterized by the request from the Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing that commercial banks present data on the financial transactions of 37 organizations (including NGOs) and media, as well as to 20 individuals.
A declining trend in freedom of expression is noticed worldwide, with an emphasis on Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House reports. Furthermore, the report notes that in the period from October 2019 to September 2020, the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia recorded 129 cases of authorities exerting pressure, issuing verbal threats, attacks on property and physical attacks on journalists.
Objections are also made to work of the state electronic media regulator (REM), especially during the election campaign. Even the broadcasts of the Radio-Television of Serbia (RTS) and of the Radio-Television of Vojvodina (RTV) during the election campaign did not contribute to citizens being supplied with impartial information, nor did they favour the pluralism of political ideas.
The full report, which was created as part of the “Civil Society for the Progress of Serbia’s Accession to the European Union” project, can be downloaded from the following link .
This post is also available in: Italiano