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Serbia to rerun Belgrade election amid controversy

March 2, 2024

The Serbian prime minister dismissed claims of vote irregularities in a public confrontation with a senior German lawmaker. The December vote has left the ruling party without a majority In Belgrade.

Hundreds of supporters of the opposition's allegations of 'irregularities' gathered in front of the State Election Commission (RIK) building in Belgrade, Serbia in January
The elections at the end of last year triggered a wave of protestsImage: Filip Stevanovic/Anadolu/picture alliance

Serbian authorities announced on Saturday a rerun of Belgrade's election, part of local and parliamentary polls from last December, amid fraud allegations.

Following a meeting with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), Belgrade's acting mayor and former waterpolo star, Aleksandar Sapic, announced the new vote in the capital.

Sapic denied it had to do with the fraud allegations or with the SNS's failure to secure majority seats in the Belgrade city council.

He described the decision as raising "the bar [of legitimacy]."

"We made a decision that does not work in our favor but we are not afraid," Sapic said.

Earlier on Saturday, President Aleksandar Vucic had asked the SNS for an election rerun. Saturday is the deadline to form the Belgrade city assembly.

How has opposition reacted?

The decision was hailed by "Serbia Against Violence" opposition alliance (SPN). Dobrica Veselinovic, from the Green-Left Front, which is part of the SPN, described it as a "victory" for the whole opposition and those who "filmed and photographed fraud" during the December vote.

Serbia police asked to probe election fraud allegations

He said the opposition would now fight to improve the way the vote is conducted.

The conservative NADA coalition also welcomed the election rerun, hoping it would be a way to resolve the political and institutional crisis in the country.

Allegations of irregularities

The December elections were criticized for alleged violations by several opposition groups and civil society organizations. International observers reported "irregularities," including "vote buying" and "ballot box stuffing."

The opposition accused the authorities in Belgrade of allowing voters from neighboring Bosnia to vote illegally.

Critics included the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). In a report, the ODIHR said the elections were "dominated" by Vucic, a right-wing populist, "which, together with the ruling party's systemic advantages, created unjust conditions for contestants."

European politicians, including the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German parliament, Michael Roth, also raised questions about the election process.

Prime Minister Brnabic slams fraud allegations

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, a close ally of Vucic, dismissed the reported irregularities as "unfounded."

In a social media altercation with Germany's Michael Roth on Saturday, Brnabic denied that the ODIHR referred to "phantom voters" in its report on the elections.

She said the accusations were "unfounded, unsubstantiated allegations made by the opposition parties" and accused Roth of sharing "fake news."

Vucic later publicly backed Brnabic against Roth, calling him "the biggest Serb hater in Germany" and warning him not to "play" with Serbia.

The December vote triggered a wave of protests, as Vucic claimed a sweeping victory for his party in parliamentary and local elections.

Belgrade: Unrest erupts over irregularities during elections

rmt/dj (AFP, Beta)