European Union leaders have rebuked Serbia over reports of vote-buying and ballot-box stuffing in Sunday’s snap parliamentary election.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi jointly called on Tuesday for Serbian authorities to follow up on all “credible reports of irregularities” during Sunday’s vote in the Western Balkan country in which incumbent populist president Aleksandar Vučić tightened his grip on power.
Their call came a day after International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote took place under “unjust conditions.”
The campaign was marred by “harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources,” the OSCE said.
The two top EU officials also warned Serbia of potential implications for its EU membership bid.
“In light of these preliminary findings and conclusions, we conclude with concern that the electoral process requires tangible improvement and further reform, as the proper functioning of Serbia’s democratic institutions is at the core of Serbia’s EU accession process,” a joint statement by Borrell and Várhelyi said.
International observers’ recommendations for future elections “should be implemented as soon as possible and well in advance of the next elections,” the leaders also said.
“We also expect that credible reports of irregularities are followed up in a transparent manner by the competent national authorities. This includes also allegations related to the local elections in Belgrade and other municipalities,” they added.
Earlier on Monday, the German foreign office warned that reports of electoral fraud were “unacceptable for a country with EU candidate status.”
Serbia has been an official candidate to join the 27-country bloc since 2012, but talks have stalled in recent years over Belgrade’s refusal to join sanctions against Russia and its failure to normalise relations with neighbouring Kosovo, whose independence it rejects.
The so-called Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, spearheaded by Borrell in an effort to mediate the decades-long rift, has failed to bear fruit.
An annual assessment of candidate countries’ progress towards EU accession published in November notes that Serbia “still needs to address a number of long-standing recommendations (…) concerning the electoral framework.”
Pro-western, democracy activists have voiced frustration with the EU for failing to punish Vučić’s government for its rising authoritarianism.
Vladimir Medjak, deputy head of the European Movement in Serbia, told Euronews earlier in December that Vučić’s government’s autocratic turn “happened under the EU’s watch.”
“This is one of the reasons why the EU is losing credibility and why the pro-European part of the Serbian society is in a defensive position, because there is nothing to defend,” he said.
Protesters have taken to the streets of the Balkan country over the past two days claiming the weekend vote was rigged, rallied by opposition parties.
The OSCE report cites the underrepresentation of women in the campaign and a lack of “genuine analytical reporting” in national media as elements that detracted from voter choice.
There were numerous irregularities on election day, the report says, including violence, vote-buying and ballot-box stuffing, a form of fraud where a voter submits more than one vote in a ballot.
Opposition parties have raised the alarm on potential election fraud in the capital Belgrade, where Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) faced stiff competition. The OSCE recognises “multiple allegations” of ethnic Serbs busing in thousands of voters from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina to cast their ballots illegally in the Serbian capital.