Battle for Belgrade: what early elections in Serbia can change

On December 17, Serbia will hold early parliamentary elections.

President Aleksandar Vučić dissolved the National Assembly on November 1, launching new elections, despite the fact that only two years had passed since the previous ones, and the next ones were scheduled for next year.

Furthermore, Belgrade and 64 other cities and communities will hold local elections.

So far, the incumbent president’s party has not had any problems retaining power. At first glance, Vučić seems to be able to retain his parliamentary majority this time around by forming a coalition with right-wing anti-Western forces.

However, the ruling party may lose the capital, which could be a huge problem for Vučić.

Reasons for early elections in Serbia

There are many reasons for holding early elections, but let’s mention the main ones. The first reason is a coincidence of interests between Vučić and the opposition movement, Serbia Against Violence.

It is thanks to the protests that have been going on for eight months that the idea of holding early parliamentary elections has become the dominant political agenda in Serbia.

We should acknowledge the timely move by the experienced politician Vučić: he understood the mood of Serbian society and made the right decision to hold early elections.

However, the protesters demanded that the elections be preceded by the government’s deprivation of control over the leading TV channels. Without fulfilling this prerequisite, it is difficult to count on fair election results, they argue. However, Vučić ignored this demand.

At the beginning of the year, Vučić announced the possibility of holding early elections to preserve and consolidate his power.

Two processes pushed for this: the falling ratings of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPS), which he had led until recently, and the dynamic growth in popularity of the Serbia Against Violence movement.

If Vučić wins the election, he will preserve the dominant position of the SPS in the Serbian political system and allow him to strengthen his power.

Foreign policy challenges are a significant factor

Early elections allowed Vučić’s government to postpone the decisions on Kosovo and international sanctions against Russia, both awaited by the West and delayed by Serbia.

The Serbian elections will create conditions for further avoiding the implementation of previously reached agreements in the context of the settlement of relations with Kosovo, as the West insists.

Most likely, the elections will result in a technical government that will not have the right to make decisions on fundamentally important issues. This includes normalizing relations with Kosovo and joining the anti-Russian sanctions, which are prerequisites for continuing European integration.

These elections will be the first where the key topic will not be the country’s accession to the EU but the future of Kosovo. And this is not surprising, as support for the idea of EU membership is gradually declining, with supporters of membership now in the minority.

Vucic’s party in the elections

There are 18 parties, blocs, and movements running in the election race.

They are very different—from communists to far-right radicals, from liberals to conservatives and monarchists, from supporters of Euro-Atlantic integration to outspoken allies of Russia.

The list “Aleksandar Vučić: Serbia must not stop” is at the top of the list. Everything is clear here: a pro-government bloc whose goal is to preserve and strengthen Vučić’s power.

The Serbian president promises to prevent the recognition of Kosovo and supports Serbia’s accession to the EU, on its own terms, without imposing sanctions on Russia. But at the same time, he does not reject Serbia’s accession to the BRICS.

Sociologists give Vučić’s bloc 39.8%. This is a clear first place, but it is not enough to create a majority in parliament.

The pro-European opposition

The main protagonist of the current government is the pro-European movement For Serbia without Violence.

The movement has gained popularity due to protests that have been going on for eight months. As a result, the movement has become an umbrella brand for a number of parties that advocate for European integration and Serbia’s return to democratic development.

Sociologists give the pro-European movement Serbia without Violence second place with a result of 26%.

However, despite the large number of participants in weekly rallies, For Serbia without Violence collected almost five times fewer signatures than Vučić’s bloc—only 20,000.

Local political analysts also write that there are more differences in the bloc than there are common views, including on the Kosovo topic.

Therefore, the members of the bloc face not only the task of winning the elections but also of overcoming internal contradictions and maintaining its unity after the elections to form a new government of new faces.

The parties “Perhaps Otherwise” and Srbija na zapadu (Serbia in the West) also advocate Serbia’s membership in the EU, normalization of relations with Kosovo, harmonization of the country’s foreign and security policy with EU requirements, and joining anti-Russian sanctions.

Socialists are Vucic’s potential allies

The leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), Dačić, could form a partnership with the ruling party through the “Ivica Dačić—Prime Minister of Serbia” bloc.

Dacic and his party are longtime allies of Vučić, so they are the number-one candidates to join the new coalition.

Socialists have a reputation as a more pro-Russian and anti-Western force. However, not so much that it creates problems in Belgrade’s dialogue with the EU.

However, despite the name of the block, Dacic has very few chances to become prime minister. His desire does not seem to correspond to the interests of Vučić, and the disputes between them are intensifying.

And if the votes of the socialists are not enough to win a majority, Nenad Popović’s Serbian People’s Party may come in handy.

Narodniks, although they have condemned the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, oppose anti-Russian sanctions and, at the same time, oppose Serbia’s accession to the EU. In addition, they demand strengthening control over migration.

The “Radical Party of Serbia,” led by war criminal Vojislav Šešelj, an openly pro-Russian and infamous Serbian politician, can also support Vučić. Šešelj supports Vučić in the elections, as they stand together in the regional elections.

The agreement between the parties of Vojislav Šešelj and President Vučić became a sensation. Although Vučić used to be a member of Šešelj’s party, they have long since parted ways.

However, for the sake of victory in the capital, where the position of the president is not very strong, it is necessary to go to such alliances.

Pro-Russian radical parties

The pro-Russian opposition, the block “People’s Assembly—State-Building Force,” consists of the “Serbian Movement” (“Dveri”) and the “Serbian Party of Covenanters.”.

They identify themselves as a state-building opposition and are pro-Russian right-wing parties that oppose Kosovo’s independence and anti-Russian sanctions.

They are eurosceptic and close to the idea of a “Greater Serbia.” Similar views are backed by two other blocs: “Good morning, Serbia” and “Hope for Serbia,” as well as the party “We are the voice of the people.”.

They have a negative attitude toward the plans of Western countries to help in the settlement of the Kosovo problem, anti-Russian sanctions, and defend the territorial integrity of Serbia for the preservation of Kosovo as part of it.

The battle for Belgrade is the main intrigue of the elections

Victory in the capital is important, symbolic, and practical. Participants in parliamentary elections in all countries have always sought victory in Belgrad due to the presence of funds (Belgrade’s budget is 10% of the national budget), power, and business opportunities (including large investment projects such as sports facilities, road and transport infrastructure crucial for the entire country, and cultural and recreational facilities).

In addition, almost 25% of the country’s population lives in Belgrade.

Therefore, the victory in Belgrade will mean for Vučić not only the preservation but also the strengthening of his power, while the victory of the opposition may lead to the beginning of fundamental changes in the country and the weakening of the president.

From the very beginning of the election campaign, Vučić did not rule out the possibility of the victory of the pro-European opposition in the capital and immediately began to act. That is why he made alliances with everyone who would help the SPP, including a convicted war criminal Šešelj.

But this move, it seems, turned out to be unsuccessful; it caused criticism of Vučić for meeting with a radical and a war criminal; it showed that the president is not sure of his victory in the capital; and the opposition saw an opportunity to win.

Polls in September and October showed that the pro-government parties lost support in Belgrade amid the growing popularity of the opposition, in particular the “Serbia Against Violence” movement.

The battle for Belgrade will be tough because it can affect the future of Serbia and push Serbs to changes.

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