Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced in his annual address to the nation on January 4 that he will not stand for another term. After completing his second term in the presidency in 2027, Vucic does not intend to change the constitution to allow him to remain in the position.
Vucic has been the pre-eminent Serbian politician for around a decade now, with his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) dominating the parliament.
He is currently just one year into his second presidential term, with the next election not due to take place until 2027. However, long before that he intends to step down as leader of the SNS, telling Serbians that in the first half of 2024 he will no longer be a political party leader.
"I have no need, nor will I in any way deceive or conceal facts from my people. This is my last presidential term. I will not change the constitution, and in the first half of next year I will not even be the president of the [SNS] party," said Vucic.
Amending the constitution is a tactic used in other post-socialist countries such as Russia to ‘reset the clock’ where there is a limit on two consecutive terms in the presidency, and enable the local strongman to stay in power for longer.
Vucic previously said in September 2022 that he planned to create a state-wide political movement in the next six months for the “survival and progress” of the country. The formation of such a movement may allow Vucic to keep his promise to resign as leader of the SNS in line with the constitution.
He indicated when announcing the new cabinet in 2022 that there will be high-level political changes in 2024. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, a Vucic loyalist, was reappointed in autumn 2022, with Vucic saying at the time that it was important for her to remain in office as “someone with experience” to tackle ongoing issues such as the energy crisis.
Years in power
The SNS first came to power in 2012 in coalition with the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), with Vucic serving as deputy prime minister under SPS leader Ivica Dacic. After the early election in 2014, Vucic took over the prime minister position, moving to the presidency in 2017.
The SNS has gradually tightened its grip on the political scene in the country, with independent watchdogs such as Freedom House reporting increased authoritarianism. According to Freedom House, Serbia has lapsed from a democracy to a hybrid regime. At the same time, Vucic’s strategy of appealing to a broad range of voters on multiple issue has helped the SNS to remain popular and score repeated election victories.
It is not clear whether Vucic plans to quit politics altogether when his second term in the presidency ends.
"Compromise not humiliation"
Vucic also addressed a variety of other topics in his address to the nation.
On the topic of Kosovo, Vucic said Serbia “cannot stand up to the great powers” but voiced his determination to fight against Kosovo’s attempt to join UNESCO, which requires a two-thirds vote by members.
Asked if Belgrade has any possible solution to the longstanding conflict with Kosovo, Vucic commented: “We are prepared to talk about a countless number of compromise solutions, but they have to be compromises, not humiliation of Serbia.”
He indicated there will be no u-turn on Serbia’s refusal to join international sanctions on Russia, despite strong pressure to align with the EU foreign policy as one of the accession candidate countries.
“Thank you very much for so brutally interfering in our internal affairs,” he said.
Pessimistic on the economy
Vucic highlighted the achievements since the SNS came to power, claiming to have “raised Serbia from its knees”, and giving examples such as the increase in employment despite Serbia’s falling population.
Voicing a pessimistic view of 2023, he said it would be more difficult than 2022 in Europe and around the world, and that this would affect Serbia.
"America is falling and approaching recession, China's growth rate is falling, Europe is approaching recession, and Serbia's growth rate is also falling, because Serbia is part of that system," said Vucic.
"It will affect us too, we are just part of the chain," he added.
However he also pointed to positives: “We have the historically lowest unemployment rate — 8.9%, the public debt rate is only 55%, the dinar exchange rate is as solid as a rock, Serbia has 62% of total foreign investments in the Western Balkans, GDP [will be] €60.3bn this year.”
On energy, Vucic noted that the Banatski Dvor gas storage facility will remain full after the winter and additional quantities of gas are stored in Hungary. Belgrade plans to extend its gas storage contract with Hungary in preparation for next winter.
In the electricity segment, he forecast that Serbia will have the second-cheapest prices in Europe, and pointed to the imminent completion of the Kostolac B3 power plant.
“We are … finishing Kostolac B3, with 350 megawatts of installed power. A very important facility for our country, after many years of non-investment,” said Vucic.
Vucic also commented on the demographic crisis in Serbia, which like much of Emerging Europe is experiencing a long-term population decline caused by the low birth rate and mass emigration.
In his speech the president linked lower birth rates to rising incomes. "Wherever there is more money, people will not have children … Don't let us have fewer and fewer children,” Vucic said.
"Many people are returning to Serbia, but more must be done. Who are we doing and building this for, what will the railways and factories do when no one wants children. We will see how to give further rights to mothers and pregnant women during the year. These are huge sums of money, €80mn to €100mn each, no less.”