Serbians are calling the newly-elected president a "dictator."
Protesters gathered for the fourth day in a row in the major cities of Serbia, including Belgrade, to protest the election of Aleksandar Vucic as the country’s new president. Vucic, who is the current Prime Minister, is a member of the recently-formed Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which is the same party that the current president belongs to. The SNS holds the majority in parliament as well, so what’s the problem?
The country of Serbia recently declared independence from Yugoslavia in 2006, and their governmental procedures have actually suffered as a result from corruption. A few days after being ejected from the Radical Party in 2008, current President Tomislav Nikolić formed his own party, which was the Serbian Progressive Party. Their rise to the majority has been swift, and Nikolić was elected president in 2012.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was elected for this position in 2014 and won the Serbian presidential election with 55% of the votes this past Sunday, but the fact that he is also a member of SNS is no coincidence, nor is it a sign that their party has the most supporters. Instead, protesters are denouncing the presidential election as “unfair,” citing several reasons and calling for the dismissal of the election commission, as well as the removal of people in a position to control the media.
Vucic was just re-elected as Prime Minister only one year ago, and as he leaves his seat behind, he is also able to choose who replaces him, ensuring that the SNS party maintains control of the government. Since approval ratings for President Nikolić were so low as the election neared, the SNS party knew that they needed a strong candidate to replace him and Vucic was the only one.
When other candidates from the opposition parties united around their candidates, Vucic began to run a malicious campaign. He used attack ads to undermine his opponents, which the media regulators gladly aired, and is one reason why the protesters are calling for the dismissal of the media regulator and top editors of the state’s RTS TV for “muzzling the media.”
During the elections, Vucic forced the parliament to pause its session until the elections were over, which was highly controversial because the legislature wasn’t able to stop any of the illegal activity that ensued during that time. After the election, there were also massive discrepancies and many reports of people being bribed and intimidated into voting for Vucic.
Protesters are calling Vucic a “dictator” and holding banners saying things like, “Stop the government terror” in response to the election. They claim that he will lead an “illiberal democracy,” such as the one that Russia has, where the president will virtually have complete control over both executive and legislative decisions, effectively undermining the separation of powers.
Despite a total media blackout in Serbia, as well as unproven claims that the protests are being organized by opposition parties, the protesters maintain that they are nonpartisan in their collaboration to call for an end to the SNS party’s reign.
In Belgrade, reports of at least 10,000 protesters showing up to rally emerged from some news outlets, while some reports said that there might have been as many as 30,000. In an effort to demean the protesters, Vucic commented that because they live in a democracy, anyone who “has the time” to protest is allowed to do so, using cynical rhetoric to undermine the complaints of the protesters.