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Serbia: Alarm over indications of serious election breaches

Transparency International urgently calls on the Serbian authorities to investigate potential abuses of public office and resources by the ruling party during the 17 December elections. It is also crucial to swiftly determine whether vote-buying took place. The prosecution and the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC) need to promptly address these alleged breaches, supported by evidence presented both before and on election day.

International institutions and expert organisations have consistently underscored the need for the Serbian government to commit to creating a fair electoral environment. This commitment includes limiting opportunities for the misuse of office, abuse of state resources, and voter manipulation, including vote buying. Instead of taking decisive measures to strengthen the electoral framework and its implementation, the government and the president of Serbia engaged in an even broader spectrum of activities to exert influence on voters in recent elections.

In its report, the International Election Observation Mission OSCE – ODIHR highlights clear examples of vote buying, breaches of vote secrecy, and influence on voters, all of which constitute criminal offences. The report also identifies new ways in which the rules were allegedly abused, such as supposed voter migration in connection with local elections. Despite domestic civil society, media, and citizens repeatedly bringing up these and numerous other concerns from the report, the prosecution, as the competent authority, chose not to respond to publicly presented evidence and complaints.

In recent elections, an existing disparity in the visibility of contestants’ campaigns became even more pronounced. Transparency Serbia’s monitoring revealed that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party’s share in the total cost of campaign TV advertising reached 80 per cent, significantly exceeding the already disproportionate 60 per cent seen in the 2022 elections.

The 2023 Electoral Integrity Global Report also includes Serbia as one of the countries with the lowest levels of electoral integrity. This indicates the need for legal limitations on campaign expenditure, to align with the established practices in many democracies also recommended by ODIHR and as a way to guarantee fair elections in the country. To prevent legal loopholes and circumvention of financial rules, campaigning by third parties must also be regulated.

Nemanja Nenadic, Programme Director of Transparency Serbia, said:

“In the absence of meaningful regulations that would limit the scope of public officials’ involvement during election campaigns, the ruling parties’ campaign once again heavily relied on promotional activities of their office holders – four times more than in the comparable non-election period, on average. An outstanding example is the president of Serbia, who had a dominant role in this campaign. On numerous occasions, he failed to comply even with the existing legal requirement to distinguish between his roles as the president of the state and a representative of his party list. The biggest concern is lack of adequate reaction by the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC), despite very clear evidence."

François Valérian, Chair of Transparency International, said:

“We call on the authorities, particularly the prosecutor’s office, the anti-corruption agency and the judiciary to fulfil their legal obligation and adequately investigate and sanction any wrongdoing in the run-up to the elections as well as on the election day. Failure to do so will further undermine citizen’s trust in the institutions and cast the shadow over the fairness of the election process and legitimacy of its results.”

See our blog on money in politics

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