Voting has started in Serbia’s parliamentary elections in which President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is expected to emerge as the winner.
More than 6.5 million people are eligible to vote in the parliamentary, provincial and local elections that were postponed from the scheduled April 26 date due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are 21 registered parties and coalitions in the running to reach the three percent threshold required to obtain seats in the 250-member National Assembly.
According to an IPSOS poll published on Thursday, SNS is expected to win an absolute majority with the Socialist Party of Serbia – who form the ruling government in coalition with the SNS – to finish second.
“There’s absolutely no uncertainty about what the result will be at all,” Eric Gordy, a professor at UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies told Al Jazeera.
“It’s another series of elections [Vucic’s] government has called under conditions in which they know that they will win and so, they are seeking to expand their mandate to further weaken the opposition and they’ll succeed in that.”
Most of Serbia’s fractious opposition is boycotting the parliamentary elections, saying that they are not legitimate due to systemic corruption and lack of independent media.
Fifty-five of the 88 opposition MPs have been boycotting parliament since late last year, claiming “there is no democracy, no normal dialogue and freedom of expression”.
Last year, the opposition put forward conditions for the polls to be free and fair, most notably having equal access to media.
However, none of the conditions were met by the government.
Over the years, Serbia’s media watchdog, the Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI), has regularly concluded in its reports that Serbian media has dedicated much of their airtime on politics to positive coverage of Vucic and his ruling coalition, with little to no criticism.
“There’s an absolute monopoly over control of information,” Gordy said. “The majority of all political news is about him [Vucic],” Gordy said.
The SNS list of candidates for the parliament, in fact, is not listed under the party’s name. Instead, it’s called “Aleksandar Vucic – for our children” even though Vucic is not up for re-election.
In its latest annual report by democracy watchdog Freedom House, titled “Dropping the Democratic Facade”, Serbia – for the first time since 2003 – was downgraded from a “semi-consolidated democracy” to a “hybrid regime”.
“Years of increasing state capture, abuse of power and strongman tactics employed by Aleksandar Vucic” have tipped Serbia “over the edge”, the report, released in May, said.
Gordy said the opposition in Serbia remains divided, and “lack an identity and a common purpose”.
“It’s a group of parties that has itself never closed the books on its far-right path, so in many respects they’re as bad as the semi-authoritarian regime,” Gordy said.