Serbian 2016 Elections: Neoliberal Continuity

Even though Serbia’s recent elections featured some new candidacies, these “newcomers” are not new at all. The parliamentary landscape continues to look the same, with the same faces cropping up again and again over the past 25 years. Unfortunately, there is no left-wing option which could use current developments and propose an alternative to the current state of affairs.

Only few changes in the Serbian political landscape

Nothing much new emerged from Serbia’s recent elections. Despite their introduction of some harsh neoliberal policies and their involvement in various political scandals, the coalition surrounding the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, won the majority of the votes and, with 131 seats out of 250, will be able to form a government on its own. There is, however, one important difference in comparison with the last assembly. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, only four lists gained enough votes to be above the 5% threshold. Now, three more coalitions have entered parliament, and even though the SNS won almost 100,000 more votes than in the previous elections, they will have 27 seats less.

The second biggest parliamentary group is the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), formerly under the leadership of Slobodan Milošević, which gained almost 11% of the votes. Paradoxically, this party, which was overthrown during the protests of October 2000, has used its presence in parliament as leverage and has been quite influential over the last decade and a half. They supported Vojislav Koštunica’s minority government from 2004-2007, and entered the government in 2008 following the historical pact signed with the Democratic Party, which was used to wash away their historical burden from the 1990s. Following this pact, SPS has formed part of every government to date, no matter which party won the elections.

The Opposition is still being led by the Democratic Party (DP), the centrist party that led the government from 2008 until 2012. Once again, it failed to gain much electoral support and is fixed on 6% of the votes, exactly the same percentage as in 2014. They will have to join forces with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is an offshoot of DP and is being led by former Serbian president Boris Tadić, as well as their coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is also an offshoot of DP.

Newcomers to the Serbian parliament are not bringing anything new to Serbian politics. One such newcomer is the nationalist and far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by Vojislav Šešelj, who is well-known for his chauvinistic and warmongering rhetoric. Another entity new to Parliament is the conservative coalition consisting of the conservative Democratic Party of Serbia (DPS) and the far-right Serbian Movement “Dveri”. The former leader of DPS was Vojislav Koštunica, who became President of Yugoslavia after the fall of Slobodan Milošević in the “5 October Overthrow” in 2000, and the party is now led by Sanda Rašković Ivić, who is often labelled as the Serbian equivalent of Marine Le Pen. “Dveri” can be defined as a proto-fascist party with close ties to the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The third new parliamentary group, “Dosta je bilo” (DJB), slots quite nicely into this nationalistic landscape. DJB, which translates as “It’s Enough”, is led by Saša Radulović, former bankruptcy trustee and Minister of the Economy in the Vučić government. Radulović resigned from the government in 2014 after trying to propose a new labour law based on radical neoliberal premises. This labour law, with minor modifications, was introduced later in 2014. However, following his resignation, Radulović started building a political organisation following a neoliberal agenda and focusing on corruption in the Vučić government.

Pro-Russian vs. Pro-EU parties

We can therefore state that these “newcomers” are not new at all. The parliamentary landscape continues to look more or less the same, with the same faces cropping up again and again over the past 25 years. Privatisation, the degradation of workers’ rights and neoliberal transformation has marked the policies of every government formed to date. The only apparent difference between political parties in Serbia is whether they are pro-Russian or pro-EU. However, this doesn’t appear to be of much importance either; SNS, the ruling party, has proponents of both positions. Prime Minister Vučić is pushing forward a more pro-EU stance, while SNS’s former president Tomislav Nicolić, now President of Serbia, leads the party’s pro-Russian line.

As SNS will form a new government, the obvious future of Serbian society is the continuation of neoliberal policies, which over the last few years have led to cuts in public sector wages and pensions, the privatisation of public enterprises and natural resources, along with the further deterioration of workers’ rights. The mantra which has been advanced over the last decade and a half is that we need a better “business climate”, which in practice means more subsidies for foreign investors.

Hopes for a left alternative

Votes show that people still believe in the bright future that Vučić promises to be just around the corner, as soon as “the reforms” are implemented. The only issue is that these “reforms” never end. The rise of radical right is synonymous with the rise of the population’s discomfort. The problem is that among these parties, there is no left-wing option which could use this development and propose an alternative to the current state of affairs. But, if we look beyond party politics, different movements can be seen to be emerging. Hopefully, a radically left alternative will emerge with them.