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June 19, 2020

SERBIA: SNS set to win re-election ahead of renewed talks with Kosovo

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)
  • A coalition led by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) remains favorite to win an absolute majority of seats in parliament in Sunday’s general election.
  • Despite a likely cabinet reshuffle after the poll, the overall policy direction is expected to stay the course.
  • The ensuing talks with Kosovo are unlikely to result in quick progress but could become an important step toward the normalization of relations in the future.

Polling stations will be open between 7am and 8pm on the voting day, 21 June. A preliminary vote count is expected to be available by the next morning and the official results should be confirmed by 25 June, unless the validity of the vote is challenged, or a re-run is necessary in any of the districts. The new parliament must convene within 30 days after the publication of official results.

The Aleksandar Vucic-For Our Children coalition led by the ruling SNS remains on track to win its fourth consecutive term in office. Its electoral list polls at around 57-61%, which should translate into an absolute majority of mandates in the 250-seat unicameral legislature. The opposition Alliance for Serbia’s boycott of the vote could lower the turnout, potentially further boosting the ruling party’s performance. A joint list of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and United Serbia (JS) – both of which support the SNS in the current government – is expected to come in second. Besides the two leading coalitions, four or five other electoral lists are expected to win seats in parliament, benefitting from the recently lowered electoral threshold to 3%.

The constitution does not set a timeline for the formation of the government, but the process should not be protracted unless the SNS experiences an upset in the polls. President Vucic is expected to nominate a member of his own party to form a new cabinet, which is likely to partner with the junior members from its electoral list. The SPS and JS could also enter the coalition talks. While the composition of the new cabinet is expected to see some changes, its policy direction is unlikely to deviate significantly from its current course.

After Sunday’s vote, public attention will swiftly shift to the renewed talks between Serbia and Kosovo scheduled for 27 June in Washington DC. While details of the upcoming meeting are scarce, the US-mediated approach could focus on closer economic ties, expecting that a political thaw would follow. Earlier this year, the US brokered an agreement to restore transport links between the two Balkan neighbors. More recently, US pressure facilitated Kosovo’s removal of 100% customs tariffs on Serbian imports, which have been in place since November 2018. Another way forward could entail a proposal for a territorial exchange between Serbia and Kosovo along ethnic divides. Suggestions for a potential land-swap have been regularly resurfacing in recent years, but such an approach has been opposed by the key EU members – especially Germany – fearing that this could trigger instability in the ethnically diverse Western Balkans region.

While a single meeting is unlikely to produce a quick breakthrough in this protracted and complex dispute, it could nonetheless help establish a framework toward the normalization of relations in the future, which is a key pre-requisite for both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s prospective EU accession. Conditions for the renewed dialogue seem favorable as the new Kosovo government led by Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (Democratic League of Kosovo) has proved its willingness to negotiate by lifting the tariffs and Serbian President Vucic may find it easier to compromise after electoral pressures subside.

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