In early 2015, European commissioner Johannes Hahn gave an unforgettable statement – he said he “needs evidence and concrete findings” for the claim that the freedom of the media is jeopardized in Serbia. Similar confusion about the nature of the Serbian regime (not just regarding the media, but as a whole) seems to dominate the international and domestic political scenes. These questions became particularly frequent after the parliamentary elections of 2016 and presidential elections of 2017. What do you mean, dictatorship and autocracy? Show us the evidence! The majority of citizens vote for SNS and are fine with the way the country is run. That’s democracy for you.
Let’s use a simple example to see what that democracy really looks like. The president demonstrated its strength on October 5, on the anniversary of his defeat long ago.
After the meeting of the party presidency, oh which he is also president (both of the party and of its presidency), the president of Serbia announced that “it has been decided that Ana Brnabic will be the prime minister-designate for the new Government.” We’ve had several candidates, said Vucic, but I have signed the decision. Sinisa Mali went on to dispel all doubts about how this “collective decision” came about: we unanimously accepted Aleksandar Vucic’s proposal.
So, the president of the state and of the party has signed the party’s decision on who will be the new candidate for prime minister, and at the same time, he has proposed this candidate himself. Let us remember here that the Constitution prescribes that “a candidate for prime minister is proposed to the National Assembly by the president of the Republic, after hearing the opinion of the representatives of the elected electoral lists.”1
During July, the president of the Republic did have some meetings on the formation of the new Government. Certainly the most interesting was the one at which president Aleksandar Vucic met with the representatives of the electoral list “Aleksandar Vucic – For our children.” If one was being malicious, one could say that he was talking to himself. However, the decision was made two and a half months later, at a meeting of the party presidency. True, we do not know who all the members of the SNS presidency are. This information is not publicly available, but it is also, as it turns out, irrelevant, as Sinisa Mali was kind enough to explain.
Bearing in mind yesterday’s presidential maneuver, it is necessary to point out the constitutional prohibition for the umpteenth time: no state body, political organization, group or individual may appropriate sovereignty from the citizens, nor establish power without the freely expressed will of the citizens.2 Also more specifically, political parties cannot directly exercise power, nor subordinate it to themselves.3
Were the elections in June free and direct? It is clear that they were not, and a lot has already been said about that on Pescanik. This is important because free and direct elections are subject to several constitutional guarantees.4 In such electoral conditions, did the state body, the President of the Republic, as well as the political organization SNS, with its president and presidency, appropriate sovereignty from the citizens and establish power beyond the freely expressed will of the citizens? After that, did they directly exercise power by using a political party, thus subordinating power to themselves, i.e. to the party?
It seems that the example of the “nomination” of Ana Brnabic, if nothing else, clearly shows that this is exactly what happened. We can say this without hesitation and fear of exaggeration. There is plenty of additional evidence for such a claim in yesterday’s announcement.
We did not talk about coalition partners today, said Vucic. Therefore, the decision to support the prime minister is certainly not the result of any consultations or guarantees that a certain number of MPs will support her in her ambition to (again) be the prime minister. In other words, the nominators of the candidate for prime minister, the MPs, were replaced by a different nominator, Vucic. He will also decide on the MPs who will support his candidate, on some other occasion.
Vucic also discussed the number of ministries and who would lead them, even though these questions can only be answered by the National Assembly.5 In the first case, the decision would take the form of a law, and in the second case, through the procedure of electing the Government and its members. Despite that, Sinisa Mali said that “another session of the SNS presidency will be held in the next seven days, at which occasion new members of the Government will be discussed.” Furthermore, when asked why they’ve waited 106 days for the decision on the candidate for prime minister, Vucic said “that you need to make a concept of what your Government will look like”.
Let’s summarize. The elections were not free, so the president and SNS, helped by the epidemic, have established the government against the freely expressed will of the citizens. Then the political party, i.e. its governing body whose membership is unknown to the public, directly exercised power by simulating the procedure of forming the government, and is still doing that, through its president, by nominating a candidate for prime minister without parliamentary support. The coalition for the support of Ana Brnabic will be selected by the party, as will the ministers. The decision took so long because Vucic took his time sketching out his government.
The problem is not only that Vucic and the SNS have trampled on the Constitution for the umpteenth time. They have done so many times before. The problem is that, on the day when we traditionally lament the missed opportunities of October 5, 2000, there are no serious reactions to the open ridicule of parliamentary democracy, and of each of us, here and now. In fact, most of the comments yesterday focused on side issues – the number of ministries and possible ministers.
That is why we are not only witnessing the consolidation of personal power and the accumulation of evidence that the country is openly governed by such a government. It can be called many things, but “democratic” is certainly not one of them. There is also increasing evidence that this situation has been normalized and mostly accepted. What did Vucic say, who will our minister be, ask the civil servants. And so does the rest of Serbia.
Today is the much-anticipated October 6th. It will dawn in silent acceptance of all undemocratic practices, led by the president. The same thing happened 20 years ago. Because of that, it can seem that October 6th never arrived, when in fact it did, 20 times already. It is we who have not yet proven willing to show the usurpers, whoever they may be, where they belong.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- Article 127 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.
- Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.
- Article 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.
- Articles 4, 52 and 100 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.
- Article 152 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.