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Serbian PM: will continue on the reform path

Serbian PM: will continue on the reform path

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Ana Brnabić is the prime minister of Serbia. 

As a direct response to calls from Serbia’s opposition for snap elections at the parliamentary and local levels, my country held early elections on December 17, 2023.  

Under President Aleksandar Vučić, and a government led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), over the past 11 years Serbia has changed quite dramatically. And the SNS approached these elections with a fitting dual strategy: Highlighting its governance achievements and outlining concrete plans. 

The opposition campaign, however, differed markedly, focusing on insulting Vučić rather than offering any sort of vision, goals or ideology — a campaign that even they themselves understood couldn’t bring victory. 

This is where the opposition’s claim of “phantom voters” came from, suggesting the SNS was registering “fake voters” and relocating voters from outside Belgrade to explain their looming defeat. It was opposition politicians who had demanded snap elections, and yet it was them who explicitly communicated to international election observers — prior to voting day — that they wouldn’t recognize the outcome. 

The fact is, with a total of 5,587 observers present, this election process was subject to intense and unprecedented scrutiny. 

Since 2019, the Serbian government’s institutional collaboration with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has led to substantial progress in electoral reforms. So far, 14 ODIHR recommendations have been fully implemented; another 14 mostly executed; and 29 more partially acted upon — all of which demonstrates a strong commitment to democratic governance. 

Moreover, electoral transparency has been enhanced through key e-government initiatives, such as the creation of a Unified Voter List in 2012, its integration with the Civil Registry in 2019, the launch of a voter verification website in 2020 and the initiation of regular voter updates starting in 2021.

It’s also important to note that in its Preliminary Elections Statement, the ODIHR International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) positively evaluated the voting process in 93 percent of the 1,220 polling stations it observed. The IEOM identified only 13 serious irregularities — a mere 1.07 percent of polling stations observed — and praised the Republic Electoral Commission’s (REC) enhanced communication and transparency. 

The number of complaints filed following election day is also in support of this trend. The 2023 parliamentary elections saw a number of complaints in line with previous elections 165 complaints compared to the 110 received by the REC after the parliamentary vote in 2022. At the same time, the local Belgrade elections saw a notable decline to only 22 complaints, which is significantly fewer than the 528 that were received in 2022.

Eventually, the electorate simply demonstrated a clear preference for concrete plans and proven achievements. 

Over the past 11 years under the SNS, Serbia has taken on a vast array of reforms, both at the national and the European Union level. In terms of EU-related reforms — particularly those concerning rule of law — Serbia passed constitutional amendments that have dramatically reduced political influence in the judiciary, earning recognition from both the EU and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. 

Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

The government also made strides toward media freedom, adopting an ambitious set of media laws. And in the fight against corruption, the government has remained committed to working with the EU and relevant bodies, surpassing the performance of many European countries as testified by the most recent Group of States Against Corruption report.  

Meanwhile, at the national level, Serbia has achieved full fiscal and macroeconomic stability, as attested by the International Monetary Fund. The country has built on this success by improving its overall business environment, resulting in a drastic reduction in unemployment and a notable increase in average salary. The country’s also just one step away from achieving an investment-grade rating, and has, for years, been punching above its weight in attracting foreign direct investment. 

In recent years, Serbia has also seen a shift toward a more technology and innovation-led economy, building Science and Technology parks, introducing coding as a mandatory subject in primary schools, providing significant incentives for the IT industry, and emerging as Europe’s top performer in the growth of information and communication technology services.  

These are just some of the results presented by Vučić and the SNS coalition in their election campaign, with the promise that Serbia would further accelerate reforms and growth. And looking ahead, the next Serbian government is set to embark on an ambitious agenda.  

In order to continue work on EU integration — an unequivocal priority for the incoming administration — the efficient formation of Serbia’s new government is key. The continuation of the Normalization Dialogue with Kosovo will be a major focus here, especially considering Belgrade’s recent decision enabling freedom of movement for vehicles with license plates issued by Priština. The incoming government will also have to focus on energy diversification, building on achievements like opening the gas pipeline to Bulgaria, and persist with vital rule-of-law reforms, including further collaboration with the ODIHR and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe.  

Democracy extends well beyond election day and the simple act of putting a ballot in a box. It should involve all participants, including those disappointed with the results, engaging in the postelectoral process. And given the extensive agenda awaiting the next Serbian government, the opposition could play a notable role in realizing many of these objectives if it were to adopt a more constructive approach. After all, this is the essence of democracy. 

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