Serbia after the Elections: Disappointment, Protests, and the Pursuit of Justice

Disappointment on election night, after the preliminary results based on vote samples, was enormous. The pro-European opposition, gathered around the coalition Srbija protiv nasilja (Serbia Against Violence), promised more than it could deliver in terms of defending the integrity of the vote, every vote, as opposition representatives would say, so that its result, which is fairly good under completely irregular electoral conditions, was negligible to the majority of its voters.


The election result in Serbia comes as no surprise to the opposition - neither the actual opposition, consisting of political organizations seen as honestly calling on citizens to vote against the regime of President Vučić, let alone the part of the opposition which, on the other hand, in the perception of the majority, served to delude voters by asking them to actually vote for the ruling structure, despite presenting its political program as opposition.

The entire public that has had the privilege of access to more accurate insights regarding pre-election polling, knew that electoral fraud had already been in full swing, and that election day would be a consequence of the violations the government has resorted to, not just during the campaign, but in its everyday governance of the state for years.

The opposition had set up unrealistic expectations, that in spite of all these egregious violations, its structure was strong enough to win in spite of the unequal electoral playing field. As opposition leaders admitted in the days after the elections, the hope had been that strong turnout would make up for the electoral fraud.

Disappointment in Spite of Good Results

Disappointment on election night after the preliminary results based on vote samples, was enormous. The pro-European opposition, gathered around the coalition Srbija protiv nasilja (Serbia Against Violence)[1], promised more than it could deliver in terms of defending the integrity of the vote, every vote, as opposition representatives would say, so that its result, which is fairly good under completely irregular electoral conditions, was negligible to the majority of its voters. 

The collective depression of opposition voters, who, as the elections showed, made up every third vote in Belgrade, and every fourth at the national level - was aggravated by the fact that the opposition representatives, mainly those gathered in the coalition Serbia Against Violence, only addressed the public around 11 p.m for the first time on election day.

At the same time, they did not immediately call the citizens to protest, neither did they do so during the day and stopped the vote, bearing in mind the numerous documented and blatant examples of abuses that the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) resorted to throughout election day.

Collection Center for Fictitious Belgrade Residents 

The most obvious example of election day abuse by the ruling SNS took place in the New Belgrade Arena, which turned out to be a gathering center for so-called imported voters from the Bosnian-Herzegovinian entity of the Republika Srpska (RS). Despite the fact that voters from the RS who have dual citizenship and thus the right to vote at the state level in Serbia can exercise that right in the consulates in BiH, a large number of them came to Belgrade, but with the aim of voting in local elections in Belgrade.

How did they obtain residence registration in Belgrade, when it is clear that they do not actually live in the capital of Serbia, is a question that cast doubt on the entire election process.

Speaking about the election results, according to which they lost the elections by a small percentage of votes in Belgrade, opposition leaders claimed that SNS imported 40,000 voters from other cities and countries, falsely registering them at addresses where they do not live.

It would turn out that they lost the election by approximately exactly that number, that is, they received 40,000 votes less than the SNS in Belgrade. The Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, announced that on election day, slightly less than 21,000 citizens crossed the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a number that included children, trying to disprove the opposition’s claims about her party's election fraud.

At the same time, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić apologized to the citizens of the RS for, as he said, the hate campaign they were subjected to by the opposition, because, he emphasized, they exercised their right to vote in Serbia.

The Prime Minister and the President failed to mention that these people voted in the local elections in Belgrade, which in fact they have no right to do, because it is obvious that they were registered at addresses where they do not live. This also happens to be a criminal offence, which is also not mentioned in the statements of government representatives.

Thousands of Dinars for a Vote

It is clear that under conditions of complete media control, such lies can be spread without any hindrance on all national frequencies, because most of Serbia does not have access to independent media critical of the regime.

Control over the media is only one part of the abuses in the perpetual pre-election period lasting well beyond a mere month before the election. As a reminder, Aleksandar Vučić distributed so-called pre-election bribes financed from the state budget, i.e. the purse of all citizens of Serbia, to pensioners and young people, making a one-time “aid" payment in the amount of several tens of thousands of dinars; that he organized the widely proven and video-recorded purchase of votes for a few thousand dinars. That amount went up to nine thousand in special cases which was all recorded and proven on site at SNS call centers. 

However, the competent institutions failed to react, which almost goes without saying in a society run as an autocracy.

The opposition counted on all of this when it decided to demand early elections in May of this year, after two unprecedented crimes[2]. As a reaction to these tragedies, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets, demanding the resignation of the security ministers, the revocation of the national frequency of television outlets that promote violence, etc.

After the regime, which is widely regarded as autocratic, called the elections, the opposition, unlike in 2020, decided to enter the electoral fray, regardless of all the conditions that characterize such regimes.

Without access to the biggest mass media and financial resources, faced with public officials using their office to campaign, and the spending of state money for SNS pre-election purposes, the opposition united in the Serbia Against Violence coalition, leaving the nationalist options, the right wing, to take part in the elections on their own.

The "Shaman" Nestorović Making the Right-Wing Disappear

The program of the right wing was based on the issue of Kosovo, the non-acceptance of the European solution for that problem, an anti-European and pro-Russian policy. It seemed incredible after two, even three decades of elections being won based on that topic - more precisely, the abuse thereof - that in 2023, all those nationalists and propagandists of hatred towards people of other nationalities and religions, would remain below the electoral threshold.

The exception is the NADA coalition led by the New Democratic Party of Serbia, which, despite abusing the Kosovo problem, passed the threshold, but only because, as it turned out, it immediately made it clear to opposition voters that its only potential coalition partner after the election would be Serbia Against Violence, not Vučić's SNS.

Apart from the extremely poor election result of Ivica Dačić's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), reduced to only six percent of the electorate, the defeat of the right-wing Vuk Jeremić (People's Party), Boško Obradović (Dveri) and Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski (Zavetnici) seems to be the only real the surprise of this election.

Namely, pre-election public opinion polls largely said that Dr. Branimir Nestorović, the "shaman" or "third eye" of Serbian politics would pass the threshold, but not only that: that he would be the decisive factor for a coalition between SNS and the Socialists in Belgrade.

Nestorović, a medical doctor and conspiracy theorist, who is one of the most bizarre projects of the SNS system, who is most vividly remembered for his public appearance alongside President Vučić immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic - saying that the Corona virus is the most ridiculous virus in the world - which was followed by a huge number of deaths from the disease, ended up passing the threshold.

On election night, he said that he would not form a coalition with anyone, which was completely unconvincing, as was shown in the following days, when he announced the possibility of supporting a minority government of SNS and SPS.

Unpreparedness of the Opposition

The appropriate reaction of the opposition to the election theft only came the day after the election, when they invited citizens to gather in front of the Republic Electoral Commission. At the same time, it was announced to the public that Marinika Tepić, an MP candidate of the coalition Serbia Against Violence, had started a hunger strike.  Three days after the start of the protest, it was announced that she would be joined by two other politicians in her hunger strike. Students, i.e., young people, have announced blockades of the city if the Ministry of Administration and Local Self-Government does not provide them with the voter list for inspection, as well as that they would wage their struggle independently of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Serbia Against Violence has demanded that all elections be voided, not only in Belgrade, and has asked the European Union not to recognize the results of the elections , i.e., to conduct an international investigation due to the obvious election irregularities witnessed by EU representatives.

The European Union’s Reaction

With the exception of Vladimir Bilčik, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia, who happens to be a member of the European People's Party, and who first stated that the elections in Serbia were held without major irregularities, and then, seeing the reactions of his colleagues from the EU, made a U-turn and said that not everything went so smoothly, other observers were shocked by the scenes they witnessed on election day.

For example, Socialists and Democrats MP Andreas Schider, a member of the European Parliament mission that observed the elections in Serbia, said the following: "I have observed many elections, but the ones held in Serbia were far from any European standards." He believes that it would be necessary to conduct an international investigation, or at least repeat the elections in Belgrade, but under new conditions. Almost the entire international community, even US officials, are of this opinion, and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs  stated the day after the election that the recorded irregularities were "unacceptable for a country with EU membership candidate status”.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a repeat of the situation from 1996, when the regime of Slobodan Milošević, to which Aleksandar Vučić himself belonged, stole the elections, and the international community conducted an investigation.

Certainly, the accusation against the opposition that they are traitors because they are seeking international intervention have begun to roll in, and the dissatisfaction of the citizens who have had their electoral will stolen with the opposition’s reaction, the absence of clear ideas and strategies to fight the blatant electoral fraud is growing.

The wall facing the local society seems unbreakable at the moment.


[1] A center-left coalition consisting of the Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP), Green-Left Front (ZLF), People’s Movement of Serbia (NPS), Serbia Centre (SRCE), Democratic Party (DS), Ecological Uprising (EU), Movement of Free Citizens (PSG), Together (Zajedno), United Trade Unions of Serbia “Sloga”, Pokret za preokret (PZP), New Face of Serbia (NLS).

[2] On May 3rd, at the “Vladislav Ribnikar” Primary School in Belgrade, a school pupil killed ten people - nine fellow students and a school security officer. The very next day, in villages near Mladenovac, a young man killed nine people. These events prompted a series of mass civic protests entitled “Serbia Against Violence”.

Editorial note, 26.12.2023. (HBS Belgrade)

After a week of peaceful protests against the electoral irregularities, as well as the hunger strikes of several representatives of the Serbia Against Violence coalition, on the evening of December 24, several thousands of citizens gathered in front of the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) and the Belgrade City Assembly, demanding that the national and local elections be voided. After part of the protestors tried to enter the City hall by force, the riot police intervened, using tear gas and what opposition representatives characterized as excessive force. Radomir Lazović, co-president of the Green-Left Front (ZLF) has stated that he had been beaten by police, in addition to other protestors. President Vučić delivered an emergency address to the nation afterwards, accusing the opposition of soliciting “foreign intervention”. Prime Minister Ana Brnabić thanked the Russian intelligence service for information on possible incidents, which were then prevented. The opposition has called on citizens to continue peacefully protesting.