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August 20, 2020

Europe

EUROPE: CEE PULSE

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 4 mins)

Intensifying crackdown on opposition politicians, journalists and anti-corruption activists suggests that Russian authorities might be seeking to suppress the remaining voices of dissent. Romania’s main opposition Social Democratic Party tabled a motion of no confidence against the Ludovic Orban’s cabinet ahead of election of new party leader on 22 August. Resignations of health and foreign ministers signal the beginning of the cabinet reshuffle in Poland. Finally, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party is considering new coalition government scenarios as opposition parties unite under a single banner.

Poland

This week the Mateusz Morawiecki’s (Law and Justice, PiS) cabinet saw resignations of Minister of Health Lukasz Szumowski (independent) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz (PiS). Two deputy ministers stepped down as well. The resignations – which appear to be unrelated – signal the beginning of a wider cabinet reshuffle expected this autumn. Changes are also anticipated in the main opposition party Civic Platform, after its current leader Borys Budka announced plans to step down. Meanwhile, the country is coping with near-record daily increases in Covid-19 infections, with the Lesser Poland province in the south emerging as a new hotspot. Nonetheless, the government plans to start the new school year in September with regular in-person learning, accompanied by sanitary measures and guidelines.

Romania

Today, 20 August, the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) tabled a motion of no confidence against Ludovic Orban’s (National Liberty Party, PNL) cabinet over the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The move could also be linked to internal rivalries within the PSD ahead of the party leader election on 22 August. The ruling PNL pledges to challenge the motion in the Constitutional Court, claiming that it could not be introduced during the parliamentary recess. If the court rejects the complaint, the actual vote will likely take place in late August or early September. The outcome will depend on the position of the center-left PRO Romania party as well as independent deputies, who remain undecided. Even if the motion is successful, Orban is expected to stay in office in a caretaker capacity until the end of local elections scheduled for 27 September and, potentially, the general election in December.

Russia

Key opposition figure Alexei Navalny has been hospitalized after falling ill on the flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 20 August. While details are scarce, Navalny’s press secretary voiced allegations of intentional poisoning. Multiple Russian opposition and anti-corruption activists have been poisoned in the past. Moreover, the country has seen a wave of arrests of journalists, opposition politicians and activists following the vote on constitutional amendments on 1 July. This suggests that Russian authorities might be seeking to suppress the remaining voices of dissent as their ratings remain near all-time lows and large protests are continuing in Khabarovsk, Russian Far East. Demonstrations could potentially expand to other parts of the country after the 13 September gubernational elections in 18 regions, as multiple opposition candidates were barred from running for office.

Serbia

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is considering two options for forming a new government following the 21 June parliamentary election: 1) the SNS-led cabinet joined by one junior coalition partner; 2) a national unity government encompassing all parliamentary parties. With 188 out of 250 seats in parliament, the ruling SNS would hold complete control of the policy agenda under both scenarios. Incumbent Ana Brnabic (SNS) and the mayor of Novi Sad Milos Vucevic (SNS) are the main candidates to lead the next cabinet. President Aleksandar Vucic, who also heads the SNS, expects to complete the government formation by 25 August. Meanwhile, 12 opposition parties that boycotted the June poll joined forces by forming the new organization, United Opposition of Serbia. Finally, on 2 September, the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are set to hold peace talks in Washington DC, mediated by Richard Grenell, the US special envoy on the issue.

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