This Sunday, December 17, voters in Serbia will take to the polls in what is likely to be the most contested election since the ruling populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of President Aleksandar Vučić came to power in 2012. The country will hold snap parliamentary, provincial, and local elections in 65 municipalities, including the capital Belgrade. The early elections, held just one year after the last 2022 cycle, were announced by President Vučić even before the current government was formed. This move was likely motivated by the need for political regrouping and potential personnel changes in the Serbian government ahead of anticipated foreign policy moves in light of growing international pressure regarding Kosovo and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
While Serbia has had its fair share of snap elections*, this year’s contest is marked by extreme tension on several domestic and international fronts. The country’s ongoing political conflict with Kosovo, intensified by a crisis in September when Serbian gunmen attacked and killed members of Kosovo’s police force, remains the priority issue for Serbia’s international position. The future of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, as well as Serbia’s position on the war in Ukraine, continue to increase pressures on President Vučić and the government to make ‘tough choices’, prompting the ruling party to return to the ballots to reaffirm its popular support. At the same time, a large wave of protests incited by the country’s first-ever mass shootings in May forced the opposition to put aside long-standing differences and head to the polls in ideologically coherent coalitions.
The main challenger to the current ruling party is the pro-European “Serbia against violence” (SPN), a coalition born out of the anti-violence protests following the mass shootings in May. SPN comprises several opposition parties, most notably Dragan Đilas’s Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP), the Green-Left Front (ZLF, formerly the “Do not Let Belgrade Drown” movement), Zoran Lutovac’s Democratic Party, Pavle Grbović’s Movement of Free Citizens, as well as the newly-formed People’s Movement of Serbia, led by Miroslav Aleksić who this year split from Vuk Jeremić’s People’s Party. Primarily united as pro-EU, anti-regime coalition partners, SPN is vocal in promoting anti-corruption and environmental measures, with Marinika Tepić (SSP) and Miroslav Aleksić leading the parliamentary ballot, and Dobrica Veselinović (ZLF) and Vladimir Obradović (candidate for city mayor) spearheading the Belgrade race.
The right side of the opposition spectrum is split across several electoral lists, as nationalist parties failed to unite under a single coalition. These primarily include the National Rally, a nationalist coalition formed by Boško Obradović’s Serbian Movement Dveri and Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski’s Oathkeepers, and the National Democratic Alternative (NADA) coallition led by Miloš Jovanović’s New Democratic Party of Serbia and the Movement for the Restoration of the Kingdom of Serbia.
There is an evident lack of reliable public polls, mostly due to voters’ reluctance to share their political views, making predictions more difficult than usual. According to limited available data, SNS is looking at a range between 39% and 46% of the national vote, while SPN’s ratings are projected to be between 22% and 25%. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), a traditional coalition partner to SNS, is running on a separate ballot and polling at around 9% of the vote. The contest on the right will be dynamic as several parties are aiming to pass the 3% threshold for entering Parliament, with the National Rally and NADA Coalition as the seeming frontrunners.
With the voting day coming up on December 17, below we outline possible scenarios for post-electoral developments in Serbia.#1 Yet another government led by the ruling SNS
The most likely scenario is that the ruling SNS-SPS coalition will emerge as the winner of the parliamentary vote and form a new government, likely without the incumbent Ana Brnabić as Prime Minister. While there is no certainty regarding the next PM, the first candidate on SNS’s list, the newly appointed SNS President Miloš Vučević, seems a likely choice, but there have been mentions of other names, including even SPS’ leader, Ivica Dačić.
This scenario would see a continuation of the SNS-led majority with the expected support of several smaller and minority parties. Given that the electoral offer on the opposition side is more stable than in previous cycles, a majority might be harder to secure, which raises the coalition potential of stronger players, primarily SPS and the right, anti-EU candidates. Nevertheless, President Vučić’s hold on voters across the country is likely still strong enough to decide on the outcome, despite the fact that he is not officially running at any level. A new SNS government would likely be more sensitive to foreign policy issues, continuing with its populist approach domestically and focusing on infrastructure projects and foreign investment.#2 A less likely opposition-led technical government
A second scenario could involve an opposition win and what is envisaged by leading candidates as a technical government with a one-year mandate. SPN leaders have announced their plan to form a post-election coalition with other opposition parties which would look beyond ideological differences, aimed at dismantling the current regime. As announced, an opposition-led government would be focused on anti-corruption and anti-violence measures, establishing conditions for free and fair elections, as well as economic policies for combatting inflation and increasing living standards.
While this outcome seems less plausible, the vote distribution will depend on many factors, including voter turnout and post-election choices of opposition candidates on the right. In any scenario, the next parliamentary convocation would see a stronger opposition with a larger share of the seats.All eyes on Belgrade
Despite the political relevance of the parliamentary contest, the Belgrade elections have been in the spotlight of the 2023 campaign. Historically, Belgrade has been the initial frontline of political changes and holds both strategic and symbolic weight in this regard.
Belgrade is where the opposition is most likely to garner support, having been the centre of this year’s protests and a general stronghold of anti-government initiatives. Observers have therefore floated the idea of an opposition win, particularly since the formation of the SPN alliance, given previous election cycles saw the opposition fail to unite under a large enough coalition.
Though opposition optimism has waned in recent days, an opposition mayor and city government could signal a change in political dynamics at the national level, including in the eyes of an international community yet to see a viable alternative to their current partner in Serbia.
Therefore, although the parliamentary elections will decide the short-term future of the country and its foreign policy orientation, the outcome of the race for Belgrade could be crucial to the longevity and future direction of SNS’ rule in Serbia.--*Since the first multi-party elections in Serbia held in 1990, there have been 14 parliamentary elections – 10 of which have been snap or early, and only 4 regular. Since the ruling SNS came into power, snap elections have largely been used as a political tactic of maintaining a permanent state of political campaigning, as well as a means to reaffirm popular support in light of political turbulence or protest waves.
###Stay tuned for Aretera’s upcoming memo about the key takeaways from Serbia's snap elections. To access our post-election memo, sign up via our website or follow Aretera on LinkedIn.