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Serbia: statement by the PACE pre-electoral delegation ahead of the presidential and early parliamentary elections

A pre-electoral delegation* of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), led by Aleksander Pociej (Poland, EPP/CD), was in Belgrade to assess the pre-electoral climate and the state of preparation a month before the presidential and early parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for 3 April 2022.

The Assembly has observed all elections in Serbia since 2000 (with the exception of the parliamentary elections of 2020). The Assembly pre-electoral delegation notes that since 2000 all but one parliamentary election in Serbia have been early elections. In this regard, the delegation considers that, while legally possible, the “culture” of early elections impacts the efficient autonomous functioning of the Parliament according to the constitutional term of office, no matter which political forces are in power. The delegation notes that the reasoning of the government for proposing to the President the dissolution of Parliament according to Article 109 of the Constitution has not been made public.

Regarding the legal framework for the presidential and early parliamentary elections, substantial changes were made early in 2022. Their effectiveness in realising international standards and commitments remains to be tested. This includes issues relating to voter, party and candidate registration, the organisation of polling, provisions for national minorities and people with disabilities, and access to the media. It should be stressed that, even if the recent changes implement international recommendations, late amendments to the electoral legislation limit the time needed for electoral preparations, including training and voter education, and might make it difficult to apply the electoral legislation properly and uniformly.

Representatives of civil society and the media described a tense political situation and the dominant position in the public sphere of the main government political party led by the President of the Republic, in particular in public broadcast media.

Domestic election observation organisations informed the delegation of problems and intimidation during the constitutional referendum held on 16 January 2022. The delegation heard, from different interlocutors, concerns about pressure put on voters and fears of possible irregularities on election day.  

The Assembly pre-electoral delegation notes that the presidential and early parliamentary election campaigns are at early stages and might be affected by Serbia’s position on the war against Ukraine.

The delegation noted that the general atmosphere is calm, and that all political contestants can campaign freely without restriction. It also took note of the legal obligation to bring forward lists with a minimum of 40 per cent of the under-represented gender. The delegation was also informed about the polarisation of society before these elections and the growing popularity of extremist opinions, which could cause additional tension.

The PACE delegation met with the Speaker of the Parliament and the Serbian delegation to PACE, leaders and representatives of political parties and coalitions, members of the ODIHR Election Observation Mission, the Chairperson and members of the Central Election Commission, members of the diplomatic corps in Belgrade and representatives of civil society and the media.

A full-fledged 22-member PACE delegation, accompanied by representatives of the Venice Commission, will travel to Serbia to observe the vote on 3 April.

* Composition of the delegation: Aleksander Pociej, Poland (EPP/CD), head of the delegation; Petra Bayr, Austria (SOC); Alberto Ribolla, Italy (EC-DA); Liliana Tanguy, France (ALDE); Andrej Hunko, Germany (UEL).