It feels like our candidate for the Eurosong contest scheduled for the first week of May already has more publicity than the presidential candidates taking part in the elections scheduled (illegally) for April 2nd. At least that’s the feeling you get if you get your news from the RTS website. The TV program of the national public service is no different (Sasa Jankovic’s appearance yesterday afternoon doesn’t change this, especially if you compare this to the appearance of the prime minister in primetime on the day of his candidacy announcement). This creates an impression that either the elections are already decided or that they’re not news-worthy. Both possibilities clearly aim to demoralize the voters and decrease voter turnout. In relation to this, here are some of my findings three weeks before the elections.
1. The prime minister’s position is (illegally) usurped by one of the presidential candidates, together with other members of the government, in order to reduce visibility of other candidates. As prime minister, he gets the full attention of the media, while other candidates and the election itself are pushed aside. If this campaign were longer, three weeks before the elections would mean that election activities are culminating. Here and now, however, some candidates are still collecting signatures for their candidacies and their order on a ballot will be known only two weeks before the elections (on March 17th).
2. Under normal circumstances, three weeks before the elections, the national public broadcaster would organize interviews with candidates or members of their teams and direct exchange of arguments between the candidates themselves. But now, we see only one candidate and the members of his team in his capacity as prime minister and the ministers who talk to themselves and respond to questions that no one asked them and that nobody cares about. While they are in a so-called official’s (and the real word would be usurper’s) campaign, election rules (the stealing of votes) are being agreed far from public view.
3. Three weeks before the elections should mean frequent publications of the results of public opinion polls. We would follow the trends and potential changes of voters’ mood. But now, it’s as if Serbia had lost all public opinion research agencies and the public receives only fine-tuned results with twofold purpose: to discourage opposition and democratic-minded voters and prepare the ground for electoral fraud (this role was played by CeSID on election day 2016). True, public opinion researchers have good reason to keep quiet: three weeks before the elections, we still don’t know the candidates, or the exact rules of the elections.
4. If the new rules remain in effect (for example, that voters must vote in the same polling station in both rounds of elections), it is possible that tens of thousands of people will practically lose the right to vote between the two rounds (for example, students or people who live abroad, usually traveling on Easter). But there’s no one to complain to about this violation of the democratic rights of citizens three weeks before the election: Parliament was dismissed without electing the Supervisory Board to oversee the elections. Just like the assembly rejected its constitutional and legal obligations, the agency responsible for media control (REM) also fails to use its capacity to create conditions for fair and honest elections.
5. Three weeks before the elections, in such (severe) conditions, the responsibility of the democratic candidates, as well as democratically minded voters, is slightly greater than usual. Candidates have to do much more so-called field work, and voters need to make a little more effort to be well informed. Applicants should also provide solid guarantees that they are able to control the elections despite all the obstacles: first, by pointing out violations of the law and abuse of the bodies in charge of the elections (which they are already doing); and then by providing about 15,000 controllers – because that’s how much is necessary to control just over 8,000 polling stations.
6. Three weeks before the election, voters need to be reminded of the following: from 2000 onwards, no candidate in the elections for president of the republic won in the first round. There is no credible information suggesting that this could happen now. Furthermore, the number of votes in the previous parliamentary elections, for example those from 2016, can only be an imprecise landmark, because the results of the presidential election don’t reflect the parliamentary election results. One of the presidential candidates has not resigned from the position of prime minister because, as prime minister, he can effectively blackmail the voters whose loyalty he obviously suspects. As president of the republic, however, such blackmail (as well as promises)1 can’t be enforced, so the voters should remember this, three weeks before the election.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- The last one of many such promises concerns the newly adopted decision on easing the criteria for promotion to higher ranks of scientific researchers. The ministry of education states that “all remarks of the scientific community were taken into consideration”. It is a community of about 12,000 members. All in all, it is clear that the government is fighting a bitter battle for every single vote by corruption and blackmail. On the forefront of this struggle is, of course, the prime minister as a candidate for president of the republic. It would seem that he, as a pretender to victory in the first round, has sunk low if he has to gather votes in this manner. Let’s just hope that the “scientific community” won’t follow him in that decline.