Extraordinary Elections in Serbia 2023: Transforming Serbia into a 'Joint-Stock Company'?

Novinite Insider » OPINIONS | Author: IFIMES |December 15, 2023, Friday // 12:08
Bulgaria: Extraordinary Elections in Serbia 2023: Transforming Serbia into a 'Joint-Stock Company'?

In the Republic of Serbia, the concluding phase of the electoral campaign is in full swing for the extraordinary parliamentary elections, extraordinary elections for the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, and extraordinary local elections for the capital city of Belgrade, along with an additional 65 local self-governments. Scheduled for 17 December 2023, these elections are regarded as the most significant since those held in 2012. Notably, they are characterized by an unprecedented 'dirty' and brutal pre-election campaign with a pronounced focus on discreditation.

There are 18 electoral lists competing in the elections for the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. The frontrunner is the electoral list "Aleksandar Vučić – Serbia Must Not Stop." Among the opposition electoral lists, the "Serbia Against Violence" list stands out.

The media landscape is entangled with a diverse ownership structure and controversial interests

The media scene in Serbia has attracted various assessments and discussions. The opposition contends that it is not granted access to certain media, especially those with national coverage. Conversely, the government accuses the opposition of being supported by a spectrum of media outlets, predominantly under foreign ownership, operating in alignment with the opposition's interests and against the government.

Serbia is a hotspot for fake news and misinformation in Europe. The fight against fake news is neither an easy nor a simple task and poses a challenge for every media outlet. Media plays a crucial role in adequately confronting the past. It is necessary to continue working on strengthening media freedoms. Serbia currently grapples with a relatively non-transparent media ownership structure and media regulation, which must be improved in the upcoming period, particularly in the domain of news portals and outlets with national frequencies.

Analysts caution that certain media outlets are failing to fulfil their professional role, often displaying a biased and overzealous approach, failing to observe professional standards, and neglecting their societal role. This is exacerbated by an opaque and intertwined ownership structure, aligning with specific domestic political entities and foreign actors.

Indications: Will the 21st century be the era of Serbia?

The 20th Century was a tragic era for the Serbian people and Serbia as a nation. The harrowing ordeals endured during the First and Second World Wars, as well as the tragic disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, have left traumatic consequences.

The first democratically elected Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjić, who tragically fell victim to an assassination, once reflected on this by stating: "The question of a better tomorrow is ever-present. I would like people to start believing that tomorrow can be better than today. My philosophy of Serbian history is that we lost the entire 20th century, and I am convinced that the 21st century can be an era of our accomplishments."

Djindjić initiated rapid democratization and implementation of much-needed reforms that propelled the development and prosperity of Serbia. At that time, Serbia became the epicentre of regional events and a frontrunner in reform initiatives. The assassination of Prime Minister Djindjić in 2003 halted this process.

Analysts posit that reflecting on the 20 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjić, it can be affirmed that Serbia has once again assumed a central role in regional affairs and become a driving force for European integration, particularly with the ascent of Aleksandar Vučić and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) to power. The country has accomplished notable economic successes and demonstrated commitment to an accelerated path toward EU membership. Serbia has managed to maintain a high annual level of foreign investments, reaching around six billion euros, surpassing the combined figures of all other countries in the region. It has emerged as an energy hub, securing a place on Europe's energy map, actively developing modern infrastructure, and intensively working on the advancement of highly sophisticated technologies and artificial intelligence.

The indications suggest that the 21st century is becoming an era of opportunities and prosperity for Serbia. Throughout its history, whenever Serbia experienced accelerated progress, efforts were made to slow down or even halt that advancement. This was exemplified by the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić. Serbia has successfully repositioned and rebranded itself in regional and international relations, transitioning from being an object to becoming a subject of international affairs. This is most evident in the dialogue on the normalization of relations between official Belgrade and Pristina, where the current President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, has effectively introduced the paradigm that "they cannot gain everything, while we gain nothing." The organization of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in October 2021, marking 60 years since its founding, stands as a notable achievement in Serbia's foreign policy. Additionally, securing the hosting of the largest global exhibition, EXPO 2027, in Belgrade is another affirmation of the prestige and influence that Serbia holds in international and regional relations. Therefore, the importance of future EU membership is even greater, as it will pave the way for unprecedented development and prosperity for Serbia.

Preempt every form of violence – elections must be a celebration of democracy

Serbia is in many respects specific country due to its geopolitical and geostrategic position. It serves as a crossroads for regional and international crime, marked by a noticeable presence of diverse interests. Consequently, the state dedicates substantial efforts to combat both (organized) crime and (active and passive) corruption within and beyond its borders. Moreover, Serbia functions as a barrier for migrants, safeguarding the EU from individuals seeking unlawful entry by passing through its territory.

Analysts warn of an imminent threat posed by the Albanian mafia and its potential role in the upcoming elections. Assessments suggest that the Albanian mafia seeks to influence the formation of a government favourable to its interests, enabling unimpeded and unrestricted criminal activities across Serbian territory, while leveraging seemingly unlimited resources for this objective. This could turn Serbia into a hub for 'narco-interconnection' in this part of the world. The estimated proceeds from the narcotics business in Albania surpass the country's budget, exceeding five billion euros.

Additionally, the goal of the Albanian mafia is to weaken Serbia's position in the final stages of the dialogue on the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, as the mafia employs the Kosovo region as one of its key strongholds. Similarly, the narcotics mafia assisted a faction of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian opposition based in Sarajevo in coming to power. Information concerning potential unrest on election day and the dispute over election results by dissatisfied participants should be treated seriously. State institutions, in particular, must be prepared to ensure peace and security for all citizens and participants in the electoral process. It is concerning that some opposition leaders in Serbia 'preventively' and without any grounds or evidence, already allege suspicions about election results. This is interpreted in analytical circles as indicative of uncertainty regarding the outcomes of their electoral campaign and the efficacy of the proposed political agenda, which predominantly centres on a singular programmatic objective: an obsession and fervent opposition to Aleksandar Vučić, with the aim of ousting him from power. Preemptive measures are imperative to forestall any form of violence, which should, under no circumstances, be used as a tool of political struggle.

Transforming Serbia into a 'joint-stock company'?

The complexity of the social scene in Serbia attests to the presence of numerous actors and vested interests. Consequently, the upcoming elections hold significance beyond the immediate outcome for Serbia but also have far-reaching implications. The state faces intense destabilization due to the generation of numerous scandals. It is crucial to safeguard the constitutional-legal order and the police-judicial system in the country. The security-intelligence-defense and police sectors are facing significant challenges, threats, and risks.

Analysts argue that specific domestic and foreign actors harbour an interest in turning Serbia into a 'joint-stock company,' wherein each entity would wield influence through a specific portfolio of shares. The ongoing struggle revolves around acquiring a controlling stake in these shares. If realized, this would be detrimental to Serbia, its democracy, and its citizens, as their voices would be devalued and derogated. Serbia would be governed by 'shareholders' rather than its democratically elected representatives.

Therefore, it is of utmost national importance that the upcoming elections in Serbia unfold peacefully and transparently, monitored by both domestic and foreign observers, and verified by all participants in the electoral process. It is crucial that, post-election, the victor promptly forms an operational and functional government. This government should extend an invitation to all political actors to expedite European integration efforts and reach much-needed consensus on key national issues, particularly regarding the conclusion of the normalization dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Regarding the improvement of relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the hope remains for the emergence of a respected Bosnian-Herzegovinian politician capable of fostering strong and amicable ties with the President of Serbia, which would finally alleviate tensions between the two states and the broader region. Regardless of Milorad Dodik's proclamations about the "Serbian world," the future of the two states must be founded on mutual recognition and respect. Certainly, Aleksandar Vučić has the capacity to achieve this.
The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly conducts analyses of events spanning the Middle East, the Balkans, and the world. IFIMES is analysing the current situation regarding the conclusion of the electoral campaign for the extraordinary parliamentary elections in Serbia, extraordinary provincial elections in Vojvodina, and extraordinary local elections for the city of Belgrade and an additional 65 local self-governments in Serbia, to be held on 17 December 2023.

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Tags: elections, Serbia, joint-stock company, Vucic

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