Evolution of Serbian Elections: From Socialist Yugoslavia to Democratic Transition

PeopleOther ♦ Published: December 19, 2023; 16:57 ♦ (Vindobona)

The history of elections in Serbia, particularly during and after World War II, is a compelling illustration of the nation's political evolution. Read more about the history and the recent election in Serbia!

The National Assembly is the unicameral legislature of Serbia. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons/ Andrija12345678/ CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The history of elections in Serbia is a complex and evolving narrative, reflecting the country's tumultuous political landscape and its journey towards democracy. Here's an overview of the key milestones and developments in Serbia's electoral history:

Serbias illiberate past

During World War II, Serbia, as an integral part of Yugoslavia, experienced profound political transformations. The post-war period saw the establishment of a socialist regime, characterized by one-party elections dominated by the Communist Party. In this system, elections were largely a formality, with outcomes predetermined by the party's control. This period marked a significant deviation from democratic principles, as the Communist Party's grip on power left little room for political dissent or pluralism.

The collapse of communism across Eastern Europe in the late 20th century heralded a pivotal shift in Serbian politics. The 1990s were a defining decade for Serbia, marked by the introduction of multi-party elections. However, this transition was not smooth. The period was riddled with allegations of electoral irregularities and fraud, especially under the rule of Slobodan Milošević. Despite the move towards a multi-party system, the legacy of authoritarianism and the challenges of transitioning to a democratic system were evident.

Democratic Transition and Recent Developmemts

A landmark moment in Serbia's political history came with the overthrow of Milošević in 2000. This event marked the beginning of a new era of democratic reforms. Serbia commenced holding elections that were increasingly transparent and fair. The introduction of international observation and freer media played a crucial role in these improvements. As a result, the political landscape in Serbia became more diverse and competitive, with a variety of political parties participating in the electoral process.

Serbia's ambition to join the European Union significantly influenced its electoral reforms. The EU's emphasis on democratic standards encouraged Serbia to adopt measures promoting fairness and transparency in elections. In recent years, the Serbian electoral scene has witnessed the emergence of new political movements, reflecting a more vibrant and dynamic political discourse. However, these developments also brought challenges, particularly in maintaining democratic integrity amidst the rise of populist politics.

Understanding the 2023 Serbian Elections

Serbia held early parliamentary elections on December 17, 2023, encompassing the People’s Assembly of Serbia and the provincial parliament of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. Additionally, over 60 towns and cities also voted for mayors following the resignation of incumbents when the parliamentary elections were announced.

In the 2023 Serbian elections, the key contestants included the incumbents and the opposition. The incumbents were led by President Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), in coalition with the ethnic Hungarian supportive party. This group has held a strong parliamentary presence since 2012 and is recognized for its achievements in economic development. However, it has faced criticism for centralizing power and shortcomings in democracy, the rule of law, and press freedom.

The opposition was split into two main groups. The first, the pro-European opposition, was led by Dragan Djilas from the Freedom and Justice Party. This faction focused on achieving EU membership for Serbia and combating what they perceived as media control and obstructions created by Vučić's governance. The second group, comprising right-wing nationalists, emphasized traditionalist values and the issue of Kosovo. They opposed EU membership, arguing that it would compromise Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

The decision to hold early elections, the seventh since the SNS came into power, appeared to be a strategic move by Vučić. It was perceived as a way to maintain power amid potential declines in popularity and to preempt future unfavorable situations, especially those related to Kosovo.

Vučić positioned these elections as a personal referendum on his presidency, intertwining the outcomes of the parliamentary elections with his leadership. The focus was particularly on Belgrade, the capital city, due to its significant political and economic influence as the home to a quarter of Serbia's population and the center of its economic activity.

The campaign of the SNS party centered on their economic accomplishments, including infrastructure development, foreign investment attraction, and steady economic growth. Conversely, the opposition highlighted issues surrounding media freedom, the rule of law, and corruption. They pledged to address rampant crime, scrutinize property and business dealings, and ensure media freedom.

The election campaign was characterized by intense rhetoric, with mutual accusations of crime and corruption. Vučić actively sought to engage younger voters with financial incentives and a presence on social media. The fairness and legitimacy of the elections were underlined by the monitoring conducted by both local and international observers.

Challenges and Criticisms

Despite the progress made, Serbia's electoral system continues to face significant challenges. Criticisms include issues of media bias, political influence, and the administration of elections. These concerns highlight the ongoing struggle to balance Serbia's historical legacy with the demands of modern democratic governance.

The evolution of Serbia's elections from the era of Socialist Yugoslavia to the present day is a story of significant political transformation. While notable strides have been made towards establishing a democratic electoral system, the journey is far from complete. Serbia's experience underscores the complexities of transitioning from a one-party state to a pluralistic democracy, a process that continues to shape its political landscape.