Last year saw an increase in the number of so-called negative points, I.E. increased public dissatisfaction towards the authorities and the way the government managed the crisis, primarily among that part of the electorate that traditionally doesn’t vote for the parties in government. However, the opposition failed to take advantage of the situation and hasn’t increased its influence significantly
The pandemic had very serious health consequences last year, even tragic ones, but it also had serious social and political consequences. When it comes to the political scene, what I mean is that the government didn’t score major points or gain a high rating during the course of last year, although I doubt it has been weakened significantly. That part of the electorate, on the one hand, is very disciplined politically, while on the other hand it is connected in terms of interests. What I think happened last year is that there was an increase in the number of so-called negative points, or that there was an increase in overall public dissatisfaction towards the authorities and the way the government managed the crisis. Here I’m primarily thinking of that part of the electorate that traditionally doesn’t vote for the parties in government. However, a problem arose because the opposition failed to take advantage of the situation and hasn’t increased its influence significantly.
I will also remind you of the reasons why the government didn’t gain any additional points and why the number of negative points increased. This is firstly because it treated the pandemic and the virus with contempt at the beginning of the crisis. Then it abruptly shifted to the most drastic measures of blocking the public and virtually imprisoning those aged over 65, only to abruptly relax all those measures just before the elections, so we saw a sudden spread of infection and an explosion of the pandemic in the second half of the year. This certainly isn’t seen as a positive attitude and behaviour of the authorities by either the population aged over 65, medical staff, doctors, educators or the families of people who died during the pandemic, and I believe that will be a reservoir of negative energy that could emerge in some subsequent elections.
The government attempted to make up for this by building hospitals and procuring respirators, but it seems to me that it has entered this year resolved, considering the upcoming dialogue between the government and the opposition, in order to prepare for the elections very seriously and thoroughly. For now they’ve been formally announced for the spring of next year, but my assessment is that I wouldn’t be surprised if parliamentary elections were held by the end of this year, with presidential and Belgrade elections left for the spring of next year. Why? Because the EU insists on the separating of elections. On the other hand, it potentially suits the government to separate these elections because the opposition is confused, because the opposition cannot reach agreement on participation in the elections – it can’t even agree on the kind of pre-election conditions it is seeking in that dialogue. In the platforms that have emerged to date, two of the three demands are completely unrealistic. The demand to separate elections is realistic and the government could use it for itself. Pre-election promises that have emerged – that there will be compensation for minimum earnings, that there will be another one-off payment for the entire population, that construction of a metro rail system and other major infrastructure works will be launched – tell me that the government has actually already embarked on a serious campaign, despite there not formally being a campaign.
All told, this will unfold in parallel with the uncertain further course of the crisis, which will also be influenced by the whole situation with the procurement of vaccines. If the government succeeds in its intention to vaccinate 70-80% of the population this year, that will be a great pre-election trump card, given the fact that the health, medical consequences and ramifications of all of that will mean the overcoming of the pandemic. Finally, if it conquers the pandemic, the government will be able to head towards parliamentary elections with a sense of complete freedom and comfort. How the opposition will respond to that is completely unclear at present.
The fact is that a serious part of the country’s electorate is dissatisfied. That section of the electorate now has no institutional framework in which it can articulate its dissatisfaction. Vučić is aware of that; he is aware that a parliament with 250 MPs who are all in power has no legitimacy. And if he does decide to go to the polls, he will give his all to ensure that a minimum of 15% of that new parliament is held by some opposition figures – but not just any members of the opposition, rather those that he would be able to control.