Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, as expected, has scored a convincing win in the first round of the presidential election with 58.5 percent of votes. However, the coalition gathered around Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party has won 42.9 percent of votes in the parliamentary elections and will have 120 out of 250 seats in the parliament, not enough to form a government on its own. The fact that the Progressives have lost a majority in the parliament after eight years will considerably change the dynamics of political processes in the country.
After the arrival of the Progressives in power in 2012, when they won 24 percent of votes, the tickets spearheaded by Vucic won the absolute majority in all the following parliamentary elections, in 2014, 2016 and 2020. In the 2020 elections, the coalition rallied around the Progressive party won 188 seats due to the boycott of the leading opposition parties, and had a two-thirds majority which it needed to change the Constitution. In the April 3 elections, the Progressives lost 68 seats and not only the two-thirds, but the absolute majority in the parliament. Vucic is surely very unhappy with that result, which has been somewhat overshadowed by his overwhelming victory in the presidential vote.
Besides the fact that Vucic will now depend on other parties and will have to agree to certain concessions, the elections were also marked by an unexpectedly good result of Ivica Dacic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, the strengthening of several right-wing parties, and a weak result of the leading opposition coalition United Serbia. Dacic’s Socialists, who have been growing weaker for years due to insufficient visibility and a subordinate position in the coalition with Vucic, have achieved their best result since 2012 with 11.4 percent of votes. As many as three rightist columns will now be represented in parliament, having easily crossed the three percent election threshold and won 12.9 percent of votes in total. The pro-European United Serbia coalition has won 13.69 percent of votes, while its presidential candidate Zdravko Ponos has won 18.4 percent, which is in both cases insufficient for dominance within the opposition.
The right-wing tickets that have crossed the threshold – the coalition around Milos Jovanovic’s Democratic Party of Serbia, the bloc around Bosko Obradovic’s Serbian Movement Dveri (Doors), and Serbian Party Oath Keepers led by Milica Djurdjevic Stamenkovski, can be happy with the results because all three have exceeded expectations. The war in Ukraine had obviously worked in their favor and they managed to win over primarily the anti-Western and pro-Russian voters who are not for Vucic, but also supporters of the restoration of the monarchy. Their entry into the parliament suits Vucic who will now, more than before, be able to advertise himself to the Western partners as a moderate option, seeing as his alternative are hardline nationalists. The statement he made on election night, that Serbia “has turned dramatically to the right” should be interpreted precisely as a message to the West, given that the parties of the right have won almost the same percentage of votes combined as in 2016, but with a different distribution of votes.
The pro-European United Serbia coalition, which rallies the Democratic Party and parties led by its former officials, has accomplished a result that is in line with the previous electoral cycles. Since the fall of the Democratic Party from power in 2012, the parties led by its former officials or leaders have not managed to win more than 15 percent of votes in parliamentary elections. That has been confirmed once again, which is why United Serbia’s weak result should come as no surprise.
The pro-Western green-left We Must coalition also entered the parliament, winning 4.7 percent of votes. This is very good result, considering its first participation in the parliamentary elections, especially since it consists of grassroots movements with modest campaign funding.
Dacic’s Socialists have scored an excellent result, but it could do them more damage than good. They had based their campaign on the claim that Dacic would be the prime minister of the next government and on opposition to imposing sanctions against Russia because of its attack on Ukraine. That, however, has obviously angered Vucic because the unexpected strengthening of the Socialists has put his Progressives in a much worse position. On election night, Vucic said several times that “there will be no room” in the next cabinet “for those who have irresponsibly abused” the fact that the majority of Serbian citizens favored Russia, “while they have never brought anything to the country.”
“Serbia will have to choose how to [go] into the future. I have no doubt that there will be talks with all political factors because the times that lie ahead of us are not easy. There will be no room in the government for those for whom everything is easy in an election campaign, and that goes for both the Government of Serbia and for the administration in Belgrade,” said Vucic after announcing the election results.
Formation of government
Although at first glance it may have seemed like he was addressing right-wing parties, Vucic almost certainly sent that message to Dacic and his Socialists. That, of course, does not mean that the doors of the government are closed to them, i.e. to their survival in it, rather Vucic probably wanted to put pressure on Dacic not to ask for too much in a situation where he could set bigger demands than before. Vucic would have to keep in mind that Dacic was the one he had to thank the most for his first-round victory, since the Socialists had not nominated their own presidential candidate, based on an agreement with the Progressives, precisely in order to bring about the victory of the incumbent head of state in the first round. Had Dacic been a presidential candidate, Vucic would have had to go into the runoff with Ponos, which would have weakened his position to an extent and put a dent in his image of powerful leader.
Vucic is obviously pretty mad at Dacic because of the way he had led his campaign, during which the Socialists did not attack the opposition, while at the same time using the war in Ukraine to score points. Nonetheless, whether the Socialists will stay in the government will primarily depend on the foreign policy course Vucic will take. According to Serbian Election Commission data, based on 99.1 percent of processed polling stations, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, a minority party very close to Vucic, will win five rather than six seats, as the initial results had shown. That means Vucic’s coalition will not have the 126 MPs needed to form a government even with that ticket, contrary to his claims on election night.
Since Vucic does not settle for tight coalitions, he will not go for the forming of a government which would, alongside the Progressives, include only the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians and Usama Zukorlic’s Bosniak Party of Justice and Reconciliation, which has three seats in the parliament. Vucic will certainly invite at least one more, possibly two tickets to join the ruling coalition. His statement on election night that Serbia will have to choose how to proceed in the future seems more like a message to the West, i.e. as a hint at the imposing of sanctions against Russia. That, of course, does not mean that Vucic has already made that decision, and he will certainly stall the forming of the new cabinet, waiting for a potential resolution of the Ukraine crisis, that is the end of the war. If that does not happen, Vucic will find himself under strong pressure to impose sanctions against Russia.
Even though it is not easy now to forecast what position he will choose, Vucic will have several possibilities at his disposal. What is certain is that the forming of the Serbian government will be tied to an agreement on a new Belgrade city administration. If the opposition does not take over Belgrade, it should be expected that the government in the capital and at the level of the state will consist of the same parties.
In the elections for the Belgrade City Assembly, Vucic’s Progressives have scored a very poor result, given that they have certainly lost a considerable number of votes and mandates, even though the final results are not yet known. The City Election Commission has unveiled the preliminary results of the elections for the City Assembly, but based on 88.63 percent of polling stations. According to those results, the coalitions around the Progressives and the Socialists combined have 56 out of 110 seats, i.e. a thin majority.
For the time being, it is certain that voting in the Belgrade elections will be repeated at five out of the total 1,170 polling stations, but that number is expected to be much bigger. The deadline for submitting objections is 8 p.m. on April 6. The opposition parties, which held a meeting on the subject on April 5, will certainly submit numerous objections and thereby increase the chances of the elections being repeated at more polling stations. That means there is room for big changes in the outcome of the elections, i.e. the opposition parties might win a majority of votes.
After the meeting of the opposition parties that have crossed or stand a chance of crossing the election threshold in the elections in Belgrade, United Serbia coalition leader Dragan Djilas said that the Progressives and the Socialists had won 412,000 votes in Belgrade, while the opposition had won 485,000 or 73,000 more. The plan is for the opposition parties to get repeat elections at as many polling stations as possible through the filing of objections, and then call on their supporters to back the opposition ticket led by former Serbian president Boris Tadic, which needs 0.2 percent of votes to cross the threshold. If Tadic’s ticket made it into the City Assembly, the ruling parties would certainly lose their majority.
However, then the question of whether all the opposition parties will maintain their position that they are in favor of replacing the city administration would be opened. That primarily pertains to Serbian Party Oath Keepers, headed by Milica Djurdjevic Stamenkovski, who said after the elections that she could imagine all options except a coalition with Djilas’ alliance at the level of the republic. It also pertains to the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by Milos Jovanovic, who has left a one percent chance of joining a government with the Progressives at the level of the state, if Vucic were to refuse a potential ultimatum from the West to impose sanctions against Moscow, in the event of additional radicalization of relations on the international scene.
At the moment, it seems that a change of administration in Belgrade is possible, but the road that leads to it is long. The question is how the City Election Commission will respond to the opposition’s objections, whether a political crisis or protests will happen because of that, what the results of the repeat elections will be, and finally whether all the opposition parties will be ready to join forces in an effort to form a new city government. It seems more likely that one of the rightist parties will switch to Vucic’s side and that an identical coalition will be formed at both the level of the state and Belgrade. One should not rule out the possibility of new elections for the City Assembly either.
The elections were also marked by the Serbian Election Commission’s decision not to announce a turnout estimate or preliminary results of the presidential and parliamentary elections on election night. The opposition parties, as well as numerous analysts, described that as an unprecedented event, as an indication of election theft and as a decision that would additionally shake citizens’ faith in institutions. However, the new election law passed in January has significantly changed the rules when it comes to the announcement of results. In other words, the Serbian Election Commission did not do anything illegal, bearing in mind the changes made to the legal framework.