European Parliament calls for independent probe into alleged vote-rigging in Serbia

European Parliament calls for independent probe into alleged vote-rigging in Serbia
/ bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 8, 2024

Members of the European Parliament called on February 8 for an independent investigation into allegations of vote-rigging in Serbia’s December 2023 elections, saying EU funding should be halted if Belgrade fails to cooperate or if election irregularities are found.

The ruliong Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), informally led by President Aleksandar Vucic, emerged victorious in the December 17 general election, securing 129 seats in the 250-seat parliament. It was also the winner of the municipal elections on the same day, including in the capital Belgrade. However, allegations of irregularities marred the vote.

In a resolution passed by a 461-53 vote with 43 abstentions, EU lawmakers expressed serious concern that irregularities may have significantly impacted voting results, particularly in Belgrade, undermining the legitimacy of the polls.

The resolution called for "an independent investigation by respected international legal experts and institutions", with a focus on events in Belgrade. 

Citing the incumbent SNS’s "persistent and systematic abuse of institutions and media to gain an unfair advantage", the elections fell "below the expected standards for an EU candidate country", said the document backed by MEPs, according to a European Parliament statement.

The document also criticised the Serbian authorities’s actions after the vote. "MEPs deplore the lack of institutional response to serious suspicions that the incumbents were involved in electoral manipulation and abuse," said the European Parliament statement. 

MEPs called for the suspension of EU funding if Serbian authorities disregard the investigation's findings or are found to be directly involved in voter fraud. They also said Serbia’s EU accession "should advance only if the country makes significant progress on its EU-related reforms". 

"If the Serbian authorities are unwilling to implement the key election recommendations or if the findings of investigation indicate that the Serbian authorities were directly involved in the voter fraud, MEPs call for EU funding to be suspended on the basis of severe breaches of the rule of law in connection with Serbia’s elections," the document says. 

The vote followed repeated calls by MEPs and several politicians from EU member states for the bloc, which Serbia aspires to join, to take action over the election. 

In their post-election reports, international bodies including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) flagged serious irregularities, including cases of vote-buying and ballot box stuffing.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) raised several concerns in its post-election report on December 18, in which it listed significant irregularities, misuse of public funds, negative campaigning and the propagation of fear during the elections.

The elections sparked a series of protests in Belgrade, where opposition parties and independent local observers alleged that voters had been bused into the city to cast ballots for the ruling party after being registered at false addresses.

After the European Parliament vote, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic singled out opposition politicians who had pushed for the elections to be investigated.

"Resolutions come and go — this is not the first, nor will it be the last, but it will forever be recorded that there were political parties and people in Serbia who sought the abolition of the sovereignty of their own country," she wrote on social network X (formerly Twitter). 

The vote was held two days after the inaugural session of Serbia's National Assembly on February 6 took place amid protests by opposition lawmakers. Members of the Serbia against Violence list blew whistles and held up banners declaring "Cancel the elections" and "You stole the elections”.