Several members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) including President Aleksandar Vucic have hinted in the last few days that the country could be heading for another round of early parliamentary elections.
If a snap election is called, this would be the third early general election since 2012 when the SNS formed its first government. At this moment, the government is more than stable with comfortable support in the parliament, but upcoming regular elections in Belgrade bring uncertainty as to whether the ruling coalition would be able to ensure a new mandate in the capital.
This has given rise to intense speculation that the SNS could be planning to call a general election to coincide with the Belgrade local election. This would put the focus on national issues rather than allowing the opposition and media to hone in on local problems in the capital and failures by the SNS-led government in Belgrade.
Recent demonstrations highlighted enduring anger over the secret midnight demolitions of parts of the Savamala district to make way for the Belgrade Waterfront development. Vucic has already announced that the highly unpopular Belgrade mayor, Sinisa Mali, will not continue in the position. He made the announcement after Mali’s ex-wife claimed that her former husband took part in the demolition. However, critics have also directed their ire at the government over the failure to bring those responsible to account.
Serbian political history has shown that losing power in Belgrade generally leads to losing power in the whole country. As an experienced politician who had been active in Serbian politics for more than two decades, Vucic knows this very well.
“Elections if you want them”
Vucic himself commented on the possibility of early elections on October 23, after rumours had already been swirling for a month.
“You will get elections if you want them. But, don’t whine afterwards that ‘Saint Peter’ is guilty because you lose them,” Vucic said in a comment directed at the opposition, which has been calling for elections.
The issue was also discussed in the parliament on October 25, when parliament speaker Maja Gojkovic appeared to say that elections would take place.
“MPs who are waving in front of your eyes actually want elections. Elections is what they are going to get,” Gojkovic said on October 25, N1 reported.
This was confirmed by SNS MP Vladimir Orlic. “If you ask me for the date of early parliamentary elections, I do not have that information. But, having in mind what the parliament looks like these days and unfortunately for a longer period of time, I think there is a reason to think in that direction,” Orlic told journalists, N1 reported on October 25. However, he added that the party had not yet received instructions from Vucic to prepare for elections.
The Belgrade election must take place by spring 2018, but there is speculation that a snap general election could be called for as early as December.
Pro-government daily tabloid Alo reported on October 24 sourcing an unnamed high level SNS official that Belgrade and general elections would be held on December 24. This would be proposed by Vucic during the week of October 30-November 5 when he would, reportedly, call for the SNS’s presidency and main board session.
Another daily tabloid, Kurir, also reported on October 24 that the general election would coincide with the Belgrade local election and be held on December 24. The daily also sourced a high level SNS official who reportedly claimed that Vucic would call the party’s top leaders to discuss the idea and declare if they support it or not.
Kurir had previously reported that a snap general election and regular Belgrade election would be held in March.
If a general election is called, it is not expected to affect the political landscape in Serbia, where the weak and disunited opposition will help the SNS to win another four years in power, giving the party an extra two years on top of its current mandate. The opposition signally failed to unite behind a single candidate ahead of the April 2017 presidential election, leaving the field clear for Vucic.
Alo claims that among Vucic’s reasons for early elections is his wish to check if citizens of Serbia are still willing to follow his path and the principles of military neutrality, EU integration, improvement of relations with Russia and China.
Early parliament elections would not affect Vucic’s mandate as he was elected president in April for a mandate of five years. The president is directly elected by citizens.
When calling snap elections in the past, Vucic has cited the need to ensure greater support, or a new fresh and full mandate, for reforms his government has started. Observers believe the real reason for calling early elections was the SNS’s assessment that voting at a certain moment would ensure a longer period in power and reduce the risk of losing, or at least being weakened, in the next term election.
The SNS initially formed a government in 2012. It was a coalition government with the Socialist Party of Serbia, which made getting the prime minister position for its leader Ivica Dacic a condition for joining. Two years later, however, the SNS decided to go for early elections aiming to take the prime minister position for itself. In the 2014 snap election, the party won its best result ever and Vucic became prime minister.
However, in 2016, he decided to check support again and new round of parliamentary elections was held to coincide with regular local elections. The SNS again won a majority in the parliament and Vucic formed a new cabinet. After he was elected president in 2017, his close ally Ana Brnabic succeeded him as prime minister.