Thousands protest in Serbia alleging election fraud by governing party

Protesters accuse President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling party of fraud and demand the December 17 election be annulled.

Protesters wave Serbian flags as they attend a rally of "ProGlas", a Serbian pro-democracy movement, to protest against alleged electoral fraud, in Belgrade, on December 30, 2023. [Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP]
Protesters wave Serbian flags as they attend a rally by Serbian pro-democracy movement in Belgrade [Andrej Isakovic/AFP]

Thousands of people have gathered in Serbia’s capital in the biggest protest yet over this month’s parliamentary and municipal elections, accusing President Aleksandar Vucic’s governing party of orchestrating a fraud and asking the results be annulled.

The large rally in central Belgrade on Saturday capped nearly two weeks of street protests against reported widespread irregularities during the December 17 vote that were noted by international observers as well.

The governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) was declared the election winner with 46.72 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results from the state election commission.

But the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, has claimed the election was stolen, particularly in the vote for the Belgrade city authorities.

Protesters waving Serbian flags and holding a banner reading “We do not accept” cheered Marinika Tepic, a leader of the Serbia Against Violence alliance, who has been on hunger strike since December 18.

“These elections must be annulled,” a frail-looking Tepic, who came to the stage with the help of two colleagues, told the protesters gathered in front of the landmark Moskva hotel.

Serbian opposition leader Marinika Tepic (C), who was on hunger strike for 13 days appears on the stage, flanked by her opposition colleagues Miroslav Aleksic (L) and Radomir Lazovic (R), as several thousands of people attend an opposition rally [Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP]
Serbian opposition leader Marinika Tepic, centre, who was on hunger strike for 13 days, appears on the stage as several thousands attend the opposition rally [Andrej Isakovic/AFP]

Tepic’s health reportedly has been jeopardised and she was expected to be hospitalised after appearing at the rally.

Serbia Against Violence has led daily protests since December 17, demanding a rerun of the vote. Tensions have soared following violent incidents and arrests of opposition supporters at a protest last weekend.

The protest was supported by students’ organisations and by an initiative gathering public figures including prominent intellectuals and actors dubbed ProGlas, or “pro vote”.

Serbia Against Violence came second in the election with 23.56 percent of the vote. The Socialist Party of Serbia was third with 6.56 percent.

Another opposition politician, Radomir Lazovic, urged the international community “not to stay silent” and set up a commission to look into the irregularities and pressure authorities to hold a new election that’s free and fair.

After the speeches, participants marched by the headquarters of the state electoral commission towards Serbia’s Constitutional Court that will ultimately rule on electoral complaints.

‘Doctoring of the people’s will’

A protester from Belgrade, Rajko Dimitrijevic, told the Associated Press he came to the rally because he felt “humiliation” and the “doctoring of the people’s will”.

Ivana Grobic, also from Belgrade, said she had always joined protests “because I want a better life, I want the institutions of this country to do their job.”

The opposition has called for an international probe of the vote after representatives of several global watchdogs reported multiple irregularities, including cases of vote-buying and ballot box stuffing.

Local election monitors also alleged that voters from across Serbia and neighbouring countries were registered and bused in to cast ballots in Belgrade.

Vucic and his party have rejected the reports as “fabricated”.

Saturday’s gathering symbolically was organised at a central area in Belgrade that in the early 1990s was the scene of demonstrations against strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s warmongering and undemocratic policies.

Critics nowadays have said that Vucic, who was an ultranationalist ally of Milosevic in the 1990s, has reinstated that autocracy in Serbia since coming to power in 2012, by taking full control over the media and all state institutions.

Vucic has said the elections were fair and his party won. He accused the opposition of inciting violence at protests, with the aim of overthrowing the government under instructions from abroad, which opposition leaders have denied.

Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials have extended full support to Vucic in the crackdown against the protesters and backed his claims that the vote was free and fair.

Source: News Agencies