Serbia

Last update: 3 weeks ago

The transformation of Serbia since the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s has been very dynamic, to say the least. From a dictatorship heavily involved in the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo bombed by NATO, via a peaceful revolution and democratization, towards a semi-authoritarian regime that has opened the EU accession negotiations in January 2014. In April 2017, outgoing Prime Minister Alexander Vucic (Serbian Progressive Party) was elected President by obtaining 55.02% of the votes. Consequently, mainly young people took to the streets in Belgrade to protest against, what they saw as a move towards a dictatorship in Serbia. 

In 2019, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the government. Eventually, the majority of opposition parties promised the Serbs to boycott the parliamentary elections if these were observed to be unfair under the “Agreement with the People”. The elections were supposed to be held on the 26th of April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it had been postponed to the 21st of June. Keeping their promise, many parties, including the social-democratic parties DS and SDS, and the biggest opposition coalition Alliance for Serbia, decided not to partake because they found the current political atmosphere non-democratic. This resulted in a low turnout rate, with less than half of the eligible voters casting their ballots. The For Our Children coalition, with the leading Serbian Progressive Party, won more than 60% of the votes, equaling to 188 seats. The runner-up was the alliance between the socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), United Serbia (JS) the Communist Party (KP) and the Greens of Serbia (ZS), obtaining 10% of the votes or 32 seats. The Serbian parliament has a total of 250 seats therefore For Our Children became the ruling coalition. Ana Brnabic remained the country’s prime minister. 

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Map of Serbia

Short facts

Population:
8,737,371 (2020)
Governmental Type:
Republic
Ruling Coalition:
"For Our Children" - SNS, PUPS, SDPS, SNP, PS, PSS, SPO, NSS, USS
Last Elections:
21 June 2020 (parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
April 2022 (presidential and parliamentary elections)
Sister Parties:
Democratic Party, (DS), Social Democratic Party (SDS)
Image of Aleksandar Vučić

Aleksandar Vučić

President

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Image of Ana Brnabić

Ana Brnabić

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Serbian transformation

Hopes were high after the citizens and social movement Otpor (Resistance) toppled the Milošević regime in 2000 without a single bullet being fired. A pro-European Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition took over power and one of the main parties within that coalition, the centre-left Democratic Party (DS) – remained in power for the most time until 2012. On the one hand, the rule of law, freedom of the press and European integration got a tremendous boost with the downfall of the dictatorship. On the other hand, the country did not manage to develop its economy sufficiently and give hope to the young people who are leaving, while the ruling elite did not manage to change the political culture. In addition, the relations with Kosovo continued to be a political burden. Milošević’s former nationalist political partners used this disappointment to wrap themselves in a European flag and win parliamentary and presidential elections since 2012. Current President Vučić served as minister of information during the Milošević’s regime.

Current Political Situation

Serbia is currently under the rule of President Vučić and the ruling coalition “For our Children”. Opposition parties have increasingly faded to the background after a number of early elections, including the 2020 elections which opposition parties protested against using a boycott. As a consequence, For our Children won by a landslide.

Serbia’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has varied greatly, and as a result, the country has suffered immensely, topping the global charts for infection rates. In March 2020, when the infection rates were still low, the government enforced a full lockdown. This was lifted in May, with no epidemiological explanation but allegedly in preparation for the June election. Now, super-spreader events were once again permitted, and infection rates soared. The sudden shift from lockdown to large gatherings and accusations that the government falsified COVID-19 statistics gave off the signal that COVID had been defeated, even though infection rates increased. When the government tried to re-impose a lockdown that summer after the elections, social tension erupted, leading to protests. Not only the COVID-19 measures were protested against, but also election fraud allegations and wider concerns over the state of democracy. The protests were first met by violent police response, but they continued even after the government announced a repeal of the announced COVID-measures. After several weeks the protests died down, but political unrest remains.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

With nationalists back in power since 2012, rule of law and democracy regressed. Institutions are weak, not independent, and distrusted by the citizens. As a consequence, citizens’ main way to participate in political life is by voting at elections. At the same time, the turn-out at the elections is low: 56% at the 2016 elections and less than 50% in 2020. While civil society is putting effort to improve the quality of democracy, the government is reluctant to engage in a dialogue with (civil) society, framing internationally financed civil society as ‘foreign agents’. Investment in active citizenship and knowledge about the political system is lacking while these are important tools to enhance democracy. Media freedom-wise Serbia is moving in the ‘’Macedonia direction’’: total control of the public broadcaster and all other major media by the government. Editors and managers from (formerly) independent media outlets are being fired, or decide to quit their job, some being afraid of verbal and physical attacks on them and their family. In addition, there is no transparency in media ownership.

Human Rights and Gender Equality

Despite laws and policies promoting gender equality in Serbia, women are underrepresented in decision-making positions, and domestic violence prevails. Serbia has the highest rate of domestic violence in Europe, with half of women in Serbia suffering under it. Furthermore, gender discrimination and structural barriers lead to a gender pay gap and a lower labour force participation for women than men.

Apart from gender inequality, discrimination persists against minorities. LGBT+ individuals are officially protected under the law, though attacks and threats of LGBT+ individuals remain an issue, while investigations are often slow and prosecutions rare. The Roma ethnic group also suffers discrimination in Serbia, though efforts are being made, and they have officially been recognized as a national minority, on the basis of which they enjoy the rights to protection of their identity. Nevertheless, public stereotypes remain, leading to discrimination against the Roma community. 

International Politics

After years of strained relations between Serb and Albanian inhabitants in Serbia, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. This declaration has been recognized by a number of major EU countries as well as the US, but not by Serbia itself. As a result, tensions between Kosovo and Serbia remain, though there have been efforts to bring peace to the area. In 2013, Belgrade and Pristina signed a historic deal, mediated by Brussels, normalizing relations, opening their way towards EU integration and granting Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo broad powers in education, health care and spatial planning. The implementation of the deal on the ground remains a major challenge. The agreement had positive effects for Serbia and Kosovo concerning the EU integration. Serbia opened the accession negotiations, while Kosovo signed its first agreement with the EU that lead to the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.

As a result of the breakthrough with Kosovo, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Serbia entered into force in September 2013. Three months later the Council adopted the negotiating framework, wherefore Serbia could hold the first Intergovernmental Conference on 21 January 2014. This date marks the formal start of the accession negotiations. In line with the new EU strategy, chapters 23 (rule of law) and 24 (fundamental rights) were two of the first to be opened. The government, however, did not use this opportunity to propagate the reforms related to these chapters as the action plan was adopted quietly in the parliament, with MP’s obtaining the action plan one hour before the vote. Although the perspective of European integration had a big impact on the transformation of Serbian politics, and society to a certain extent, it lacked a long-term sustainable approach. Moreover, the ruling elite misused European integration to legitimize all their actions; this “we-have-to-do-this-because-the-EU-says-so" attitude resulted in slow transformation during which the political elite acted like it was not in the interest of Serbia to engage in the European integration-related reforms. The long-term prospect of EU membership is not enough for the political elites in the region to reform. This is also shown by the fact that Serbia is not aligning her foreign affairs policy to the EU’s policies.

Furthermore, the government is successfully creating an image of the strong historical, brotherly and spiritual relations between Serbia and Russia. Although the debate about the relations with Russia is blown out of proportions, the ‘love’ for Russia – after Belarus Serbia scores the best when it comes to the popularity of Russia – offers the nationalist political elite an escape card when recognition of Kosovo will be demanded as a prerequisite for EU membership. Not only are the ties with Russia being strengthened, but also those with China. The two countries have found common ground through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and through China’s support to Serbia throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To conclude: Serbia has turned away from its sole EU-perspective, and is currently balancing West, Russia, and China. Prior to the parliamentary elections in 2020 President Vučić explicitly indicated that Serbia will continue to balance its ties between the power blocks.

Another important instrument in the EU accession process is the Berlin Process. Although it rightfully aims to enhance regional integration and cooperation, it lacks ownership (top-down process), is not transparent and only six EU member states are directly involved. This problem was not solved when the European Commission presented its new enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans in 2018, followed by a new assessment in 2021. Although it raised the prospect of 2025 as the possible accession date of Serbia to the Union, it effectively underlined the necessary steps it must take before the country can become a member. Therefore, many political analysts and journalist are sceptical about the EU integration: as long as Serbia is cooperating on Kosovo, engages in regional cooperation and acts as a stable and reliable actor to the EU, it will get EU’s carte blanche on internal politics. Consequently, the quality of democracy has decreased: there is less free press, a weakened rule of law and an increasingly authoritarian regime.

In September of 2020, Serbia and Kosovo agreed, with mediation of U.S. President Donald Trump, to work on their economic ties. The accord involved highways and railways to connect the two countries, but political cooperation was sot settled. 

Fragmentation on the left

When SNS took power in 2012, the Democratic Party (DS) formed the core of the opposition in Serbia. However, since then, the party has fragmented into several different parties as several senior party members left the DS. On 30 January 2014 former President of Serbia Boris Tadić resigned as honorary president of the DS. Tadić said he decided to leave because of disagreements with the direction in which the Democrats were heading under the new leadership. DS was at that moment looking for a potential coalition with the New Party (Nova Stranka) led by Zoran Živković, another former member of the DS. After his resignation Tadić started his own party: the New Democratic Party (NDS), later renamed to Social Democratic Party (SDS). Tadic supporter and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vuk Jeremić, also created his own political party, the People's Party (NS) in 2017, after Tadic left. Mayor of Belgrade and President of the party, Dragan Đilas, also left the party in 2014. Đilas left after the DS lost its power in the Belgrade City Assembly, showing his intent to run his own political platform.

There are currently six parties in Serbia that classify themselves as center-left: the DS and SDS, the newly formed Party of Freedom and Solidarity SSP, the regional League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina LSV, the Social Democratic Party of Serbia SDPS, and the Socialists SPS, previously Slobodan Milosevic’s party. However, the distinction between left and right common to the Western party system is only partly applicable to these parties, and therefore these six parties vary greatly in clientele, type, and orientation. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated as The SDPS and the SPS are part of the ruling coalition, while the other four parties are part of the opposition.

With the centre-left vote split between multiple parties and groups, the opposition in Serbia has been heavily divided. The 2018 Belgrade Assembly Elections were seen by many as a test for the opposition, to answer the question if it could still function against the might of the SNS. Leading up to the elections the centre-left couldn’t unite. The Đilas platform in the city was supported by the Movement of Free Citizens of former presidential candidate Saša Janković. Another former DS member, Aleksandar Šapić, ran his own campaign. The division resulted in a sweeping victory for the SNS in the local elections, receiving 45% of the vote. The DS didn’t even make it to the threshold of 5%, probably because Dilas and Sapic won 19% and 9% respectively. On a local and national level the Social Democratic opposition, what used to be the DS, is now divided among multiple former DS members and their spin-off parties.

Protests unite opposition against the current government  

In late 2018, a series of protests erupted in Serbia, started by angry citizens who are fed up with the authoritarian rule of president Vučić and his SNS party. The protests started in Belgrade but soon spread to other cities in Serbia, and are considered to be one of the longest-running protests in Europe. It was triggered by the assault on opposition politician, Borko Stefanovic, but the underlying anger towards the government was fueled by a wide variety of scandals involving ruling party members, such as sexual harassment cases and a whistleblower who uncovered an arms trade scheme. Apart from these issues, the protest has been centred around the death of Serb politician Olivier Ivanović, who was murdered in front of his party office in Kosovo. The protests united parts of the country, with opposition members from all over the political spectrum joining forces. As a result, opposition parties from the left and right established the Alliance for Serbia, which is aimed at ousting Vučić and ensure fair and free elections. The Alliance boycotted the 2020 parliamentary elections citing the current conditions for an election as unfair and accusing the ruling Serbian Progressive Party of undemocratic practices.

 

Elections

Parliamentary elections

Apart from 2020, Serbian parliamentary elections are often called early: in 2016 the last parliamentary elections took place, only two years after the parliamentary elections in 2014. They, in turn, were also two years early, as there had been elections in 2012. The next parliamentary elections are announced to take place in 2022, again two years too early. Prime Minister Vučić called two early parliamentary elections to, as he argues, confirm the support for his reformist agenda. In reality, however, he has mastered the acts of dividing the opposition and cutting off their finances, controlling the mainstream media and the election process, and finding the optimal moment to pull together the resources for yet another election victory.

On 30 January 2014 Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić called early parliamentary elections. The coalition government, with SNS as the main party, explained its request for early elections by the need to ensure "as wide as possible support for accelerated reforms and modernization of Serbia". However, the fact that SNS was skyrocketing in all polls (above 40 per cent) is considered as the crucial factor for SNS to go to the polls and having its leader Aleksandar Vučić return as Prime Minister, after having been Minister of Defence. The results of the elections lived up to the expectations: the SNS won by a landslide with 48.4% of the votes.   

In 2016, Vučić stated that preliminary elections were needed in order to ensure the smooth transition towards the EU and implementation of reform, again enforcing early elections. These elections were again won by a landslide by the SNS-led coalition, though opposition parties stated that the elections had been rigged, and the results therefore false. Nevertheless, the results were translated into the political landscape and were maintained until the latest elections in 2020.

In 2020, less than 50% of those eligible to vote cast their ballots. Not many people had faith in these elections since a lot of factions decided not to partake after they observed the undemocratic atmosphere and controlled media. The winner, with 188 of the 250 seats and more than 60% of the votes, was the For Our Children alliance, with the Serbian Progressive Party as its leader. The alliance of the Socialist Party for Serbia between United Serbia, the Communist Party and the Greens of Serbia came in with 32 seats. The Serbian Patriotic Alliance obtained 11 seats and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians received 9. The remaining seats are divided between the Only Right Alliance, Albanian Democratic Alternative together with United Valley and lastly the Party of Democratic Action of Sanzak.

The election was observed by the EU’s OSCE, and the Belgrade-based Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability (CRTA). Observers of these groups registered some violations like breaches of voter secrecy, parallel voter records violations, pressure on voters, and vote buying. The CRTA determined that eight to ten percent of the polling stations saw irregularities that increased the total turnout figures, and that without these irregularities, the turnout would likely be around 45%. Nevertheless, the CRTA did not believe that this had any real impact on the final election results.  


Election results

Party Seats
 Serbian Progressive Party (SNS 158 seats)-led For Our Children Alliance ( Alliance 188 seats)  188
 Socialist Party for Serbia, United Serbia Alliance Communist Party and Greens of Serbia   32
 Serbian Patriotic Alliance   11
 Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians    9
 Justice and Reconciliation Party    4
 Albanian Democratic Alternative and United Valley    3
 Party of Democratic Action of Sandzak    3

 


Presidential elections

On April 2nd 2017, Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), Aleksandar Vucic, won the presidential elections with 55.02% of the vote for a five-year term. Former ombudsman and independent candidate – who was supported by the main opposition Democratic Party (DS) Sasa Jankovic was second with 16.36%, Ljubisa Preletacevic – Beli got 9.43%, the former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic received 5.66% of the votes and Vojislav Seseli, who is the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), got 4.50%. For many people supporting the opposition, the results were disappointing because they had hoped that a second round with the two candidates receiving the most votes would be necessary. Notable about these elections was the participation of Ljubisa Preletacevic, who participated under his alter ego: Beli. He tried to hold a mirror up to the Serbian society by using humour and satire. Mainly young people and people who are disappointed in Serbian politics voted for him as an anti-establishment vote. Current President Tomislav Nikolic from the SNS did not rerun because his party decided to support Vucic instead of him, as they were not confident he could win. According to the Republic, Electoral Commission voter turnout was 54.54%.

Observers

The Centre for Transparency, Research and Accountability (CRTA), did not receive reports on major irregularities. They only noted irregularities in 3% of polling stations. They also noted that electoral commissions sometimes did not check the personal documents of voters, or if they had already cast their ballot. They also sometimes did not mark voter’s fingers with special ink so that they cannot vote again. Finally, they noted that in Zajecar, Knjazevac and Alibunar, police stations were open to urgently issue voters with certificates to show that they had filed requests for new ID cards, this could enable people without valid IDs to vote. The incidents that were reported did not show a trend that could endanger the regularity of the election process.

Aftermath

The week after the elections thousands of Serbs took it to the streets of Belgrade and other cities to protest against Vucic’s victory. The protestors mainly claimed that the election results mark the beginning of a dictatorship. Furthermore, they accuse Vucic’s supporters of having rigged the elections leading to his victory. Especially during the campaign Vucic dominated in the media and had the most resources. The protestors are also calling for the resignation of the Serbian parliamentary speaker, Maja Gojkovic, as they claim she unlawfully prorogued parliamentary during the campaigning period. Lastly, the protestors want that the electoral roll is cleaned up because, according to them, there are over a million ineligible voters on it and they want the public broadcaster to be free from political influence.

Political parties

(Social) Democratic parties

Logo of Democratic Party

Democratic Party (DS)

Party Leader: Zoran Lutovac

http://www.ds.org.rs

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Logo of League of Social Democrats in Vojvodina

League of Social Democrats in Vojvodina (LSV)

Party Leader: Nenad Čanak

http://www.lsv.org.rs

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Logo of Social Democratic Party

Social Democratic Party (SDS)

Party Leader: Boris Tadić

http://sds-org.rs/

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Logo of Social Democratic Party of Serbia

Social Democratic Party of Serbia (SDPS)

Party Leader: Rasim Ljajic

Number of seats: 8

http://www.sdpsrbije.org.rs

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Logo of Freedom and Justice Party

Freedom and Justice Party (SSP)

Party Leader: Dragan Djilas

https://ssp.rs/

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Other parties

Logo of Serbian Progressive Party

Serbian Progressive Party (SNS)

Party Leader: Aleksandar Vučić

Number of seats: 158

http://www.sns.org.rs

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Logo of Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (Source: http://pups.org.rs)

Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (PUPS)

Party Leader: Milan Krkobabić

Number of seats: 9

https://pups.org.rs

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Logo of Serbian People's Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Srpska_narodna_partija_logo.jpg)

Serbian People's Party (SNP)

Party Leader: Nenad Popović

Number of seats: 3

https://srpskanarodnapartija.rs

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Logo of Movement of Socialist (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_of_Socialists#/media/File:Movement_of_Socialists_logo.png)

Movement of Socialist (PS)

Party Leader: Aleksandar Vulin

Number of seats: 3

https://https://pokretsocijalista.rs/

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Logo of Serbian Renewal Movement (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Serbian_Renewal_Movement_logo.png)

Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO)

Party Leader: Vuk Drašković

Number of seats: 2

https://www.spo.rs

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Logo of Strength of Serbia Movement (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strength_of_Serbia_Movement#/media/File:Snagasrbije.jpg)

Strength of Serbia Movement (PSS)

Party Leader: Bogoljub Karić

Number of seats: 2

https://www.snagasrbije.com

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Logo of People's Peasant Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Narodna_seljacka_stranka_logo.jpg)

People's Peasant Party (NSS)

Party Leader: Marijan Rističević

Number of seats: 1

https://nss.org.rs/

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Logo of United Peasant Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Peasant_Party#/media/File:Ujedinjena_Seljacka_Stranka_logo.jpg)

United Peasant Party (USS)

Party Leader: Milija Miletić

Number of seats: 1

https://www.ujedinjenaseljackastranka.rs

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Logo of Socialist Party for Serbia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_the_Socialist_Party_of_Serbia.svg)

Socialist Party for Serbia (SPS)

Party Leader: Ivica Dačić

Number of seats: 23

https://www.sps.org.rs

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Logo of United Serbia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_Serbia_logo.jpg)

United Serbia (JS)

Party Leader: Dragan Marković Palma

Number of seats: 7

www.jedinstvenasrbija.org.rs

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Logo of Greens of Serbia (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greens_of_Serbia#/media/File:Greens_of_Serbia_logo.png)

Greens of Serbia (ZS)

Party Leader: Ivan Karić

Number of seats: 1

https://www.zelenisrbije.org

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Logo of Communist Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_(Serbia)#/media/File:Komunisticka_partija_logo.png)

Communist Party (KP)

Party Leader: Joška Broz

Number of seats: 1

https://www.kp.rs

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Logo of Serbian Patriotic Alliance (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Patriotic_Alliance#/media/File:SPASLogo_novi.png)

Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS)

Party Leader: Aleksandar Šapić

Number of seats: 11

spas-srbija.rs

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Logo of Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliance_of_Vojvodina_Hungarians#/media/File:Flag_of_the_Alliance_of_Vojvodina_Hungarians.svg)

Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ)

Party Leader: István Pásztor

Number of seats: 9

https://www.vmsz.org.rs

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Logo of Justice and Reconciliation Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_and_Reconciliation_Party#/media/File:Logo_of_the_Justice_and_Reconciliation_Party.svg)

Justice and Reconciliation Party (SPP)

Party Leader: Muamer Zukorlić

Number of seats: 4

https://http://spp.rs

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Logo of Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_of_Democratic_Action_of_Sandžak#/media/File:Sda-logo.png)

Party of Democratic Action of Sandžak (SDA)

Party Leader: Sulejman Ugljanin

Number of seats: 3

https://www.sda.rs

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Logo of Party for Democratic Action (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_for_Democratic_Action#/media/File:Partija_za_demokratsko_delovanje_logo.jpg)

Party for Democratic Action (PDD)

Party Leader: Shaip Kamberi

Number of seats: 3

https://www.pvd-pbm.org

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Biographies

Image of Aleksandar Vučić

Aleksandar Vučić

President

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Image of Ana Brnabić

Ana Brnabić

Prime Minister

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Image of Ivica Dačić

Ivica Dačić

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Leader Socialist party of Serbia (SPS) and

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Image of Boris Tadić

Boris Tadić

Leader New Democratic Party (NDS)

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Image of Zoran Lutovac

Zoran Lutovac

Leader of the Democratic Party

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Sources

Country profiles

  • BBC country profile
  • CIA world factbook
  • United Nations – common county assessment

Economy

  • Worldbank reports
  • IMF reports
  • Instute for War and Peace Reporting
  • B92

Elections

  • CeSID
  • Election World.org
  • OSCE/ ODIHR
  • Reuters

European Union

  • European Commission Serbia and Montenegro - Stabilisation and Association Report 2004
  • European Union’s external relation’s with Serbia and Montenegro
  • Euractiv.com
  • EUObserver.com
  • Serbian politics
  • Government
  • Parliament
  • Political parties BBC
  • Election Guide

War Crimes

  • UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
  • War Crimes Tribunal Watch
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting on the Tribunal

News and analysis

  • B92
  • BETA News Agency
  • Civilatas Research
  • Freedom house
  • Institute for war and peace reporting
  • Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty
  • Transitions Online
  • World Press Review
  • Balkan Times
  • SE Times