Serbia is heading to the polls, again. On Sunday, the country will vote to elect a new national parliament and several local assemblies, including in the hotly-contested capital Belgrade.
This is the seventh time President Aleksandar Vučić has taken his country to the polls since he was first elected in 2012, and the fourth consecutive time he has called elections early. Vučić has developed a habit of holding elections every two years, and he has honed his techniques for winning. With his Serbian Progressive party (SNS) set to win again, what’s his secret?
As elsewhere in the Balkans, Serbia’s rulers depend on a political patronage system to maintain power. The public administration is bloated for good reason: it allows the ruling party to give out jobs in return for political loyalty. Since the SNS came to power in 2012, those who work in the public sector have been pressured to vote for the ruling party and their families and friends are expected to do the same. Those who disobey risk being transferred or dismissed from their jobs.
In the first 20 days of the campaign, the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) recorded claims of clientelism in 12 cities, primarily directed at public sector employees. The online news portal Balkan Insight reported that one employee working in local government in Kragujevac was transferred to an abandoned, damp workplace after he refused to promise to secure votes for the SNS.
Those who have jobs in the public sector are expected not only to vote for the ruling party, but to campaign for them too. Recently, Serbia’s opposition Freedom and Justice party complained that teachers in the town of Užice were forced to go door-to-door campaigning for the SNS.
Vučić and the SNS also benefit from Serbia’s stuffed electoral register.