A united opposition, with significant external support and an increased turnout, appears to be the recipe that needs to be tested in Serbia. The first step in that would be a suitable challenger able to unify these three elements.
It’s been five years since power shifted in North Macedonia. The concerted efforts of the opposition parties, with strong support of external actors like the EU and the U.S., helped to thwart the increasingly authoritarian regime of Gruevski. A few years later, several countries in the region have followed suit. In Montenegro, the longstanding rule of PM/President Đukanović came to an end following more organised efforts (compared to 2016) among the opposition parties. The latest local elections in neighbouring Hungary showed that a strong opposition that also enjoys the support of Western democratic actors can mount a serious challenge. But Serbia is a country that (so far) seems immune to opposition challenges.
However, the most recent elections, which were organised during the pandemic and without the participation of the opposition and with a clearly skewed playing field, have left a dent in the incumbent’s regime. It was a process without a winner, where all parties lost, including the ruling ones, despite recording a landslide victory.
A united opposition seems to be the necessary condition to stand a chance against a dominant incumbent, but it is not sufficient on its own. As the recipe in budapest shows, it is also necessary to strike a compromise on important policies among major opposition parties
A new parliamentary composition without tangible opposition representatives will lack legitimacy, both domestically and externally. In fact, the situation is very much reminiscent of the one that followed the landslide victory of the North Macedonian counterpart to SNS, VMRO-DPMNE, in 2014, where the opposition refused to accept its mandates. The lack of a credible opposition, coupled with united opposition and strong support from foreign actors, seemed to be the recipe for that country in 2016.
A united opposition seems to be the necessary condition to stand a chance against a dominant incumbent, but it is not sufficient on its own. It is also necessary to strike a compromise among the major opposition parties on important policies, as was achieved by the wide-ranging coalition in Budapest’s 2019 mayoral elections. Although the opposition in North Macedonia and Croatia was led by traditional social democratic parties, the cases of Budapest and Montenegro showed that newcomers can also attract significant domestic and external support. The opposition was able to gather sufficient external legitimacy to pose a threat to the incumbent regime. The last ingredient is an increased turnout. Elections in North Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as the local elections in Hungary, particularly in Budapest, saw increased turnouts.
The combination of these three, with a united opposition that has significant external support and an increased turnout, appears to be the recipe that needs to be tested in Serbia. And the first step in that would be a suitable challenger able to unify these three elements.