21 December 2023

Serbia opposition urges EU to help open international probe into disputed vote

21 December 2023

Serbia’s main opposition group on Thursday urged the European Union to help open an international investigation into reported irregularities during last weekend’s election in the troubled Balkan nation seeking EU membership.

The Serbia Against Violence group said in a letter to EU institutions, officials and member states that they will not recognise the outcome of last Sunday’s parliamentary and local election.

They called on the EU to do the same and initiate the inquiry.

Early results showed victory for the Serbian Progressive Party of President Aleksandar Vucic in both ballots. But its main opponents, the Serbia Against Violence alliance, said they were robbed of a win in Belgrade.

Mr Vucic and other ruling party officials denied the claims of vote rigging and said they would do everything to “defend voters’ will of the people”.

Mr Vucic said on Thursday that authorities in Serbia are compiling “an important letter about the interference of an important country in the electoral process of Serbia in the most brutal way”. He did not specify which country.

Serbia Against Violence have demanded that the election be annulled and rerun. Thousands of people have rallied in Belgrade to protest against the alleged vote theft since Monday.

“The European Union now has a big chance to restore the trust of the citizens of Serbia,” Dragan Djilas, one of the leaders of the SPN coalition told The Associated Press.

Djilas said election irregularities included media bias, false signatures on voters’ lists, vote-buying and voter migration, including bringing in people from neighbouring Bosnia to vote in Belgrade.

Opposition leaders have charged that some 40,000 people were brought in on election day.

“The (election) will of the people of Belgrade has been absolutely betrayed while the result of the parliamentary election is not in line with the will of the people of Serbia,” Mr Djilas said.

“I think it is of utmost importance for both Serbia and the entire region to finally bring democracy into this country.”

In their preliminary statement, an observation mission made up of representatives of international rights watchdogs also reported multiple irregularities and unjust conditions for the participants because of media bias, abuse of public resources and presidential dominance during the campaign.

Serious irregularities included cases of buying votes and the stuffing of ballot boxes, according to joint conclusions by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

In the letter, Serbia Against Violence called on the EU to “not recognise the results of the parliamentary, provincial and especially local elections in Serbia, until a full international investigation into the electoral irregularities is completed”.

They added that the EU should initiate the investigation and later help form a verification committee that would oversee the preparation of a next election and make sure international recommendations are fully applied to ensure a free and fair vote.

There was no immediate reaction from the EU to the letter. It was addressed to the president and members of the European Parliament, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, the foreign affairs chief and committees and representatives of the EU’s 27 member states.

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