Third day of protests against the dictatorship: Protesters present their demands

Demonstrations against the professed ‘dictatorship’ of Prime Minister and president-elect Aleksandar Vucic entered their third day as thousands of people braved rainy weather in the cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad to protest the powerful premier’s contested victory in Sunday’s presidential election.

Smaller gatherings of several hundred people or so were reported in cities across Serbia.

Protesters issued five demands for the government this evening:

  1. Replacement of the members of the Republic’s Electoral Commission (RIK)
  2. Replacement of all members of the body that regulates the electronic media in Serbia (REM)
  3. Replacement of the Head of the Parliament, Maja Gojkovic, because she “obstructed” the work of the Parliament.
  4. Replacement of the heads of the National Television and Radio of Serbia (RTS) because of their alleged “bias” towards the government.
  5. Revision of the voting lists, and making a more up-to-date list of those who are registered and able to vote.

In a written statement, presidential candidate Sasa Jankovic said that he fully supported peaceful protests. He also urged the protestors to exercise self-control, warning them that he is being accused of concoting „plans to artificially incite violence“, and that this is the most dangerous manipulation by the government that could spin out of control.

„I would like to invite all protestors to show peace, composure and self-control. Also, please record with your mobile phones people who cause incidents for the purpose of truth and later legal actions“, Jankovic says in his press release.

The Electoral Commission (RIK) tasked with overseeing Sunday’s election was comprised of a president and 16 members. Of these 17 individuals, the president along with six other members were from Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party (SNS). Two other members were from smaller parties on the same list as SNS with leaders who were vocal in their support for Vucic prior to the presidential election: the Pensioners’ Party (PUPS) and and the Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDPS). Another three members of RIK were from parties in the governing coalition with SNS, and also supported his candidacy — two from the Socialist Party (SPS) and one from the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM). That means 12 out of 17 members of RIK, including its president, openly supported a Vucic victory going into the election.

The remaining five members were from parties hardly visible or entirely absent from the campaign, including a member of former President Boris Tadic’s minor Social Democratic Party (SDS) which did not run a candidate in the election at all, and the Democratic Party (DS), which likewise did not run a candidate but supported former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic. Sasa Radulovic’s Dosta je Bilo had a single member, but Radulovic only managed to take 1.3 percent of the vote. This means that none of Vucic’s top three competitors — Jankovic, Beli Maksimovic or Vuk Jeremic — had any real representation on the supposedly impartial government body overseeing the electoral process.

To remind, Speaker of the Parliament Maja Gojkovic (of SNS) suspended parliament a month before the election, which was widely interpreted as an effort to silence the opposition and deprive the country of parliamentary oversight. Media coverage was demonstrably biased in Vucic’s favour in the period leading up to the election, and protesters gathered in front of the state television station RTS on the first night of the protests. Research conducted by Transparency Serbia and other media monitoring organizations supports the claim that media was heavily biased in Vucic’s favor.

Despite the overwhelming empirical evidence that this was not a “free and fair” election, the protesters’ demands will naturally be ignored. Protest movements always lose momentum, especially without a clear organizational or leadership structure.

All of this does present a problem for the EU. Most major European leaders congratulated Vucic on winning the presidential election, and he has long enjoyed largely uncritical praise from the west. The majority of protesters against his “dictatorship” are young, and in Serbia, those born after 1982 are the segment of the population least supportive of EU membership. A study conducted in September 2016 revealed that 54 percent of this age group was against joining the EU. By remaining silent now in the face of Serbia’s student protests, the EU risks further alienating young people.

(Balkanist, Newsweek, 05.04.2017)

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