Serbia votes in favor of EU-backed judicial reform, Vucic himself announces result
More than 60% of those who voted in a referendum to change Serbia's constitution over judicial reform said “YES” yesterday, albeit with a very low turnout.
Yesterday's vote may be the first in a series of polls that Serbian media say President Aleksandar Vucic may convene after a controversial change in the referendum law recently allowed it to be valid without a minimum threshold, even if the activity is like yesterday. And it was only about 30 percent of those eligible to vote.
The results announced by Vucic - not by the Central Election Commission - suggest depoliticizing the judiciary through reforms that strengthen its independence. To this end, both the European Union and the United States welcomed such policies, when the referendum was scheduled for late last year.
In this activity, the difference between those who voted “YES” and “NO” is about 400 thousand votes. With the support given yesterday, the election of all judges and prosecutors, with a few exceptions, is transferred to the judiciary power (judicial councils of judges and prosecutors). Parliament will elect only the prosecutor general and 15 of the constitutional judges.
What could go wrong
Councils of judges and prosecutors have existed before, but with much greater involvement of the executive and legislature branches. For example, the Minister of Justice was part of both councils (now it will be only the prosecutor's office), deputies could also be in both (and with the changes they will not be in either).
Among the campaign's main arguments for voting “NO” was the rise of the Serb Progressive Party (Vucic's), which has taken over a number of institutions, in the judiciary branch. Another argument was the difficulty of tracking and investigating the judiciary branch, documented in investigations only by a few independent media. This is why many experts while welcoming the reform, believe it is far from enough.
However, there is another reason: allegations that the current parliament lacks legitimacy. The Serbian legislature has adopted a reform that led to a referendum over a constitutional amendment that requires a year and a half after the opposition boycotted parliamentary elections in June 2020.
Almost all pro-government parties entered parliament, and Vucic turned out to have a majority of more than three-quarters. Almost all parties have joined a government whose term - following concerns expressed by the West - has been reduced to nearly a year and a half. Even before it came to power, Vucic announced a new snap vote in the spring of 2022 and entered into a dialogue with the opposition on how it would take place.
The vote could be a test for other important referendums, and this was among the opposition's calls for caution. For example, resolving the Kosovo issue depends on the constitution, as its 2006 version states that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia’s territory. Vucic assured that any decision would be made in accordance with the will of Serbian citizens.
Why Vucic announced the results
In fact, the first data on the vote came from Vucic himself, not from the Serbian CEC. He also announced that the Serbian capital, Belgrade, differs significantly in voting from other cities. Over 54% voted “NO”, over 45 – “YES”.
The CEC was asked why it released the first data nearly an hour after the president's words, and journalists were accused of “misunderstanding the matter” and did not receive an answer.
From Vucic's de facto coalition partner, the Socialist and former foreign minister (now parliamentary speaker) Ivica Dacic, they heard that the current government was the first to take its own power.
The opposition interprets the results from Belgrade, where it is strongest, as a sign that “no to the regime” can still be said.
There was also criticism of the question, which came down to “Do you support the act amending the constitution of the Republic of Serbia?” and there was no explanation of exactly what the vote was for.
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