Serbians are finally rising up against President against his reign, and especially the use of political violence against the opposition, have taken place in the capital Belgrade and across the country.’s regime. For the last five months,
Serbia’s road towards illiberalism is nothing new. Articles about the celebration of the country’s early 2016 and 2017 elections have shown how Serbia’s democracy is progressively deteriorating, and how Vucic’s change from prime minister (more powerful) to president (more figurative) could even lead to the collapse of democracy in Serbia.
While democracy might not have collapsed yet, is certain after seven years of Vucic’s reign characterized by his party’s capture of institutions, media, and the public sector: Serbia is no longer a “defective democracy,” but rather a “competitive authoritarian” one.
In competitive authoritarian regimes, formal democratic institutions are the main means of gaining and fulfilling political will. However, political actors and leaders break the rules so often that the regime fails to fulfill even the minimum democratic standards.
In these regimes, multiparty elections are held on a regular basis, but the for all participants. The , public resources are misused, and voters suffer coercion, giving the ruling party an unfair advantage over the opposition.
Following what has been said, and in view of the , Serbia has clearly trespassed the threshold from illiberal democracy to competitive authoritarianism for more than one reason.
Since the populist conservative Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came to power in 2012, the country has witnessed early elections twice. Apart from 2014 and 2016 when elections were actually held, no year has passed without SNS continuously threatening to call early elections.
This happened in 2017 when early parliamentary elections were announced alongside presidential ones, and again in 2018 when legislative elections were announced alongside local elections in Belgrade. Even in 2019, SNS already the .
All these early elections and constant threats of new ones, combined with the consequent suspension and abuse of all other legitimate instruments of indirect participation (such as public debates, petitions, and consultations), pose important limitations to citizen’s activism and their involvement in the decision-making process.
Moreover, all electoral campaigns have presented a rather deleterious picture. The government has made partial use of public media, and in many instances, have become indistinguishable.
There are additional factors that negatively influence electoral conditions and make elections unequal and unfair, such as the use of negative campaigning, including unfounded accusations and personal attacks on political opponents.
On top of this, (such as violations of ballot secrecy) are tolerated and financial means are used illegally, as , ranging from the consumption of (non-electorally related) public funds to the coercion of public employees.
The of , , and people who are forced to vote for the ruling party if they do not want to lose their jobs are conspicuous.
The illegal and unfair use of media does not stop at electoral campaigning.
SNS does not only control state-owned media, where the ruling party appears than the opposition, but is also in charge of several private tabloids that are continuously discrediting the opposition as well as any individual who dares to speak against the ruling party.
Afraid of the consequences derived from opposing Vucic, most national TV stations have become an SNS mouthpiece, broadcasting propaganda destined to discredit an opposition deprived of a voice.
SNS’ media voracity is so big that to increase its already strong grip and close the circle, the government has used the public telecommunications company to buy . With that money, over which SNS could previously not exert any influence., the second most important cable operator in the country, which was
Verbal attacks on and any left occur daily, especially who investigate corruption scandals or unlawful actions. This goes far: at the end of last year, a .
and the have repeatedly pointed out these oppressive media conditions, that are typical for competitive authoritarian regimes. Serbia has by far the worst media situation in all Balkans, according to .
Like it has , and notwithstanding the change to a less powerful office, Vucic remains not only the leader of the party in and of power, but is also the country’s strongest political figure. Vicuc is the one who is in charge, .
Although constitutionally still the main legislative power, Serbia’s parliament has completely lost its role. There are almost no discussions during its sessions. One clear example is the approval of the 2019 budget, where the ruling party to waste time and prevent the opposition from even speaking up. Other state institutions, including the Ombudsman Office and the Anti-Corruption agency, have also witnessed consistent obstructions from the SNS-subordinated government.
As pointed out by several reports by the and other , both the rule of law and judicial independence have become very deficient in Serbia.
Political polarization, including violence, is also on the rise. The of oppositional Coalition for Serbia leader during a political debate in November and, especially, opposition leader ’s in January 2018 were the straws that broke the camel’s back.
It led to constant all over the country against the government in general and Vucic in particular. The opposition has started to , and the idea to extend this , either later this year or in 2020, is already on the table.
The biggest tragedy of all is that, like in other Central European countries, democratic backsliding in Serbia is taking place under the eyes of the international community.
Due to his cooperation in the , Vucic has continuously received support from the West, helping him to create what some have already dubbed a “.” However, if the United States, and especially the E.U., want to keep any credibility and beyond, they should keep their eyes open and react before it is too late and Serbia turns into another Hungary.