Miroslav Antić

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A pro-Europe prime minister wins a second term in Serbia

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A pro-Europe prime minister wins a second term in Serbia

Democracy in America | Apr 25th, 19:07

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A pro-Europe prime minister wins a second term in Serbia

WITH most of the votes from Serbia’s general election on April 24th counted, it is clear that Aleksandar Vucic, the prime minister (pictured), has won another four-year term. From Brussels and other Western capitals, congratulations have been rolling in. Mr Vucic’s foreign partners want nothing more than stability in the Balkans, and Mr Vucic can deliver it. Whether he can deliver growth, or help develop Serbia’s flawed democracy into a transparent and competitive one, is more doubtful.

Mr Vucic called the election two years earlier than necessary, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won roughly half of the vote, as it did two years ago. Because more parties will enter parliament this time, the SNS will have at least 20 fewer seats, though still a majority in the 250-seat chamber. The Socialists came second with 11%, while the radical nationalists of Vojislav Seselj, who failed in 2014 to clear the minimum for representation in parliament, will now be the third-largest party, with almost 8%.

Mr Seselj’s return to parliament is the second bit of good news he has received this month. On March 31st he was acquitted on war-crimes charges by the UN tribunal on the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. His electoral success means Serbia’s parliament will once again include an extreme nationalist party advocating closer ties with Russia. “Russia will be pleased,” says Milos Damnjanovic, an analyst at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. Mr Seselj’s influence, however, will be limited.

Mr Vucic and Ivica Dacic, the leader of the Socialists and foreign minister in the outgoing government, are both ardent exponents of maintaining friendly regional relations and of joining the European Union. This is a dramatic transformation. During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Mr Vucic was a protégé of Mr Seselj and Mr Dacic was a spokesman for Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s rabidly nationalist leader at the time. With the SNS, the Socialists and Mr Seselj’s party getting most of the vote, the vast majority of deputies in the new parliament will have been hardline nationalists or supporters of Mr Milosevic in the past. The once-mighty Democratic Party, which came to power after Mr Milosevic’s fall in 2000, only just scraped into parliament, as liberal Serbs scattered their votes between the Democrats and a number of small parties.

Under Mr Vucic, Serbia is likely to continue gradually to implement the reforms demanded as part of its EU accession process. It will also continue its EU-led talks on normalising relations with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Although relations with Bosnia and Croatia are sometimes bad-tempered, no serious ructions are likely.

But Serbia’s biggest issues are domestic. In 2015 its economy grew by an anaemic 0.7%. Serbs are scraping by on an average salary of €351 ($395) a month. Many voted for Mr Vucic because he sounds convincing. But unless he can raise living standards, says one Serbian politician, this is the last time he will be chosen to lead the country.

Mr Vucic has projected himself as a strongman who can defend Serbian interests. He has long promised to fight corruption, and claims to be devoted to democracy. In fact, despite many high-profile arrests (especially of politicians connected to the Democratic Party), there have been few convictions for high-level corruption. The media is largely weak and cowed by government pressure; state television unfailingly reflects the government’s point of view. Stevan Dojcinovic, a prominent investigative journalist who recently began investigating Mr Vucic’s family wealth, found himself attacked in the tabloid press as a “French spy”.

Florian Bieber, a professor at Graz University, says Mr Vucic is one of a generation of Balkan leaders with no ideological underpinning, who run their countries through informal networks, by telephone, rather than via proper institutions. “It is all about personal power,” says Mr Bieber. As one Serbian official puts it: “The West has been primarily interested in whether these guys are nationalists in an explosive region. They have somehow lost interest in whether they are democrats.”

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Written by Mika

25. aprila 2016. u 20:49

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