After the Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić dissolved the National Assembly (Narodna skupština) in March and called for early elections, this election was characterized as necessary for EU accession, but also as a political gamble by Prime Minister Vučić. Serbia’s president has an important role in the dissolution of parliament and the election of a new prime minister after a vote of no confidence. Art. 130 of the constitution reads as follows: “The proposal for the vote of no confidence in the Government or the member of the Government shall be accepted by the National Assembly, if more than a half of the total number of deputies votes for it. If the National Assembly passes a vote of no confidence in the Government, the President of the Republic shall be obliged to initiate proceedings for election of the new Government. If the National Assembly fails to elect the new Government within 30 days from the passing of a vote of no confidence, the President of the Republic shall be obliged to dissolve the National Assembly and schedule elections” (Constitution of the Republic of Serbia 2006). The early elections come as sort of a Serbian tradition, as only 2 parliamentary elections in the last decade actually took place at the end of the legislative term of 4 years.
The decision of the president was not unexpected and is widely viewed as move to cement the ruling of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its chair Aleksandar Vučić. President Nikolić is also no stranger in the SNS, as he is one of the founding members of the party. Both politicians have declared a pro-EU stance, but are also controversial figures when it comes to the strengthening of Serbia’s democracy. The main motive for the snap election is widely assumed and pointedly formulated by the following quote: “Vučić may simply […] cash in on his popularity, while it lasts” (Stojanović and Casal Bértoa 2016).
However, one further possible explanation why the SNS pushed for early elections should be added: Constitutional amendments in Serbia require a 2/3 majority, and an amendment is absolutely necessary for the accession to the European Union. In particular, “several provisions in the constitution also state that international agreements cannot be in contradiction with the constitution […] (and) does not provide the possibility for the transfer of competences” (Banović 2016). Thus, the goal of Vučić to gain the necessary legitimization for this process could also be one explanation.
Furthermore, the EU accession was also the essence of the election campaign. This campaign – after the president’s decision – provided a new experience for Serbian voters, namely the clear concentration on domestic policies and the necessary reforms (public service and the economy) to join the European Union. And apart from two rightwing parties, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), all campaigning parties were in favor of the EU accession of Serbia. Though, the unexpected acquittal of the leader of the SRS Vojislav Seselj by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, also revived themes of earlier election campaigns (e.g. the situation of Kosovo) but only shortly. In sum, clear electoral programs were not observable, rather most statements had the character of day-to-day politics and reactions to short-term political situation (Beckmann-Dierkes et al. 2016, 2).
Election and election results
The election was held on April 24 in a nationwide constituency with proportional representation. Similar to other countries a 5 % electoral threshold is necessary, however this threshold does not apply for groups representing ethnic minorities. Part of the electoral process in Serbia is the formation of electoral lists. The list “Serbia is Winning”, chaired by Aleksandar Vučić, won a 49% majority. Based on the preliminary election results, the political move of Vučić did not work as expected. As more parties than two years ago seem to have crossed the threshold, the SNS will most probably receive less parliamentary seats (according to the most recent counting 27 fewer seats than in the last term, see MacDowall 2016). After the DSS failed to get the necessary number of votes, protests and accusations of electoral fraud started to gain momentum. A diverse group is now demanding a re-run, among them certainly representatives from the nationalists and right-wing parties but also the moderate social democrat (and former president) Boris Tadić. Because of these protests the electoral commission decided on a re-run in 15 polling stations. The majority of Vučić might increase depending on the results of the partial recount. This recount will most probably show that the DSS/Dveri list failed to reach the 5 % threshold; their – now 13 seats in parliament – will be distributed among the other parties (RFE/RL 2016). Now, with another – probably less stable majority – it remains to be seen whether the new and old prime minister will keep his promises and reform the public sector and try to prepare Serbia for the accession to the EU.
Banović, Damir (2016): Serbia, in: Fruhstorfer/Hein: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. VS Springer.
Beckmann-Dierkes, Norbert; Gogic, Ognjen; Kawohl, Steffen (2016): Vorgezogene Wahlen in Serbien Akteure und Themen. KAS-Länderbericht, in: www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_44931-544-1-30.pdf?160420120833.
Constitution of the Republic of Serbia (2006), in: https://www.constituteproject.org/.
MacDowall, Andrew (2016): 5 takeaways from the Serbian election, in: http://www.politico.eu/article/5-takeaways-analysis-from-serbian-election-aleksandar-vucic/ (April 25).
RFE/RL (2016): Outcome Of Serbia’s Elections Unclear Until May 4 Partial Repeat Vote, in: http://www.rferl.org/content/serbia-partial-repeat-vote/27706066.html (May 2).
Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando: There are 4 reasons countries dissolve their parliaments. Here’s why Serbia did, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/22/there-are-4-reasons-countries-dissolve-their-parliaments-heres-why-serbia-did/ (April 22).