The upcoming elections in Serbia will take place in an atmosphere devoid of free discussion or support for democratic choices from electoral institutions. And yet there is nevertheless a possibility for the opposition to take control of Belgrade
Serbian citizens will head to the polls once again on 17th December. Awkwardly requested by the opposition and surprisingly scheduled by the government, these elections are distinctive in that the opposition has a real shot in Belgrade. Polls show that the opposition (all parties, from left to right) has equal support compared to the ruling parties and could challenge the years of SNS and SPS (along with a few minor parties) rule in Belgrade, provided it manages to entice all its supporters out to vote. Still, regardless of what the polls show, and regardless of the rise in dissatisfaction that they illustrate, it won’t be easy for the opposition to convert said dissatisfaction into votes. These elections are again occurring under unequal conditions, with a considerable advantage for the ruling parties. Most media outlets in Serbia continue to report uncritically on the government, while the opposition in the country has limited access to such media outlets and continues to be vilified by the pro-government press and tabloids. Electoral institutions that would ordinarily play a significant part now sit largely dormant or are supportive of the ruling players.
The predominant issue of all-encompassing violence stands out as the greatest concern and challenge in Serbia, particularly among crucial swing voters who have the potential to instigate change in Belgrade
These elections in Serbia represent a juncture that could instigate change. They come at the end of a shocking year. The elections were called following the eruption of protests in the aftermath of the tragic gunning down of children and young adults in Belgrade and Mladenovac over the course of two days in early May. Protestor numbers unseen in recent times flooded the streets of Belgrade and other cities to protest the growing atmosphere of violence in Serbia that they believe is being reinforced continuously by the ruling political players, by their rhetoric, mannerism and actions. All-encompassing violence is the most important topic and problem in Serbia for those key voters that might bring change to Belgrade. That holds true for loyal opposition voters, those who remain undecided and those who might break from the ruling party.
The voters beyond this group, representing the majority of all voters, view inflation and constantly rising prices of food and other essentials as the most important problem. This comes as no surprise. Statistics show that food prices have risen 42% over the past two years. The pains of the average voter in covering their family’s basic needs probably explain the widely discussed episode with the President showcasing Baloney-style Parizer sausage on national TV (and everywhere else), offering hope that the cheapest foods might be even cheaper in the future.
It is within the power of Serbia’s current government to almost completely control the public agenda in the country, and it has so far used that power to squash dissenting voices and disruptive arguments. Such has been the case with the May tragedies that are building up to be a collective trauma for Serbian society, or the events in Banjska, Kosovo, that were left largely unexplained to the public. The President and the ruling Progressives have instead chosen to run their campaign on further progress and their perceived achievements. Will that be enough to hold on to power in Belgrade? That remains for us to see on 17th December.