A man holds a placard reading "Save my vote" at a protest in front of the Republic Electoral Commission against alleged theft of votes at the April 24 snap elections, in Belgrade, Serbia, on April 30, 2016. (Xinhua/Nemanja Cabric)
by Nemanja Cabric and Wang Huijuan
BELGRADE, May 8 (Xinhua) -- The coalition around Serbia's ruling Progressive Party led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won 131 seats in the 250-seated parliament, according to final results of the April 24 snap parliamentary elections revealed Thursday.
That enables the coalition to form the government independently, even with 27 less seats than the previous term.
While Serbian Progressive party called the election victory a confirmation of the path of European Union (EU) reforms, some see the results as a failed attempt to win absolute power and others expect the new government to face a tougher-to-handle parliament on EU accession and other issues in the future.
EU REFORMS TEST OR REACH OUT FOR ABSOLUTE RULE
Serbia opened two chapters of EU accession negotiations last December, and expects to open two more chapters this summer.
Vucic, hoping that Serbia will finish all relevant reforms by 2019 and enter EU in 2020, referred to the elections as a test of people's willingness to continue with reforms and EU negotiations.
"In order to secure European living standard and define a clear and unambiguous future path of our country, there is a need for a fresh power of a united Serbia with a clear mandate to complete reforms and enable the country to step towards the front door of the European family of nations," Vucic wrote in a March letter submitted to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to request snap elections.
To Dusan Janjic, political analyst and director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations in the Balkans, the elections are not an "EU referendum," but an attempt of the ruling party to strengthen rule and reconstruct government, both of which, however, did not entirely go as planned and have been only partially fulfilled by final election results.
Sociologist Milan Nikolic told Xinhua that he believed the Progressive Party had expected 50 percent or even 60 percent of the votes based on previous polls, so Vucic wanted to take Socialists, a smaller coalition partner led by Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, out of the government, in order to form a new coalition with some even smaller parties or minority parties.
On several occasions after the elections, Vucic expressed his uncertainty over whether to invite Socialists in the government or not.
Moreover, Nikolic does not see EU membership as the main future goal of the government, and instead he believes the fresh mandate will be to continue "unpopular austerity measures, restrictive economic reforms and cutting the number of employees in public sector," which are demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
"EU is a carrot on a long stick. The process is going to take long time," Nikolic said.
TOUGHER-TO-HANDLE NEW PARLIAMENT
Many believe that the opposition in this term, which will include not only pro-EU parties, but also anti-EU, pro-Russian far-right ones, will be much harder to deal with for Vucic.
"Aleksandar Vucic got a tougher parliament after the elections and is now forced to cope with the right-wing Radical Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia," said Zoran Panovic, a journalist with the Danas daily newspaper.
"Elections were good for the prime minister as he strengthened the legitimacy of his rule, but are also unfavorable because they (ruling coalition) have less mandates," he said at a local TV show.
Bosko Jaksic, a commentator of the Politika daily newspapers, said that Vucic secured mandate for Serbia's EU integration, but "paid a price" for it.
"With the victory of the Serbian progressive party, Aleksandar Vucic has secured a strong mandate for the policy of European integration and ever-tougher economic reforms, but the most persuasive result in the history of the Serbian multi-party system in the past 26 years was paid with lost MP seats and the monopoly of pro-EU parties who ran the parliament in the previous term," he wrote in an article.
According to Janjic, Serbia's future parliament will "reflect more realistically the country's reality" after these elections. The reality, according to him, includes the renewed Radical Party, known for extreme anti-European views and pro-Russian orientation, and several strong Eurosceptic parties of the far-right that will oppose Vucic.
The Progressive Party did get the "political legitimacy and parliamentary seats but not the one they hoped for, and especially not the two-thirds majority they only wished for," Nikolic said.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Vucic said on April 29 that "Serbian EU path depends on the change of its constitution by 2018," for which he will need a two-third majority in the parliament, which is 167 out of 250 votes. With only 131 seats won by his coalition in the elections, Vucic will have to make compromises to secure Serbia's EU future.
Nikolic told Xinhua that a change to the Serbian Constitution is needed due to the preamble concerning Serbia's south province of Kosovo. The current constitution, adopted in 2006, defines Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, although the province declared independence in 2008, which Serbia categorically refuses to recognize.
Well, this is just among many challenges for the future government.
According to Vucic's post-election statements, Serbia will strive to attract more investors, improve business climate and judicial system and will also seek solutions for its bankrupt public companies, as well as restructure large state-owned companies to make budget savings.
Nikolic doubts that the austerity measures and the "belt tightening" policies proposed by IMF, the World Bank and EBRD will lead to economic growth or higher employment.
"In a national economy like ours, which is not export-oriented but oriented to domestic market, if you reduce salaries and pensions you will decrease local demand, and this cannot lead to growth and increased employment," he explained.
In his opinion, priority of the future government should be achieving economic growth, and increasing employment, with greater attention paid to the industry and agriculture that "have good chances."
Janjic, however, believes that Vucic's priorities should be to clearly set the country's future path whether towards EU reforms or on cooperation with Russia.
"If he decided on this issue, than its clear what the priorities are. First is the restructuring of administration, second is to determine its strategic partners," he said, adding that Serbia needs to improve its economy, invest in energy sector and infrastructure as well as food industry.
Since the elections night Vucic has repeatedly said that he is working on the new government's plan that will be explained in front of lawmakers after he is officially proposed for the new prime minister's position.
Vucic said the new government will be formed after the session of the Progressive Party presidency which was scheduled for May 28.