Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Serbia

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
7,100,000
Capital: 
Belgrade
GDP/capita: 
$5,235
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Ratings Change:

Serbia’s political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 due to serious irregularities in the 2016 parliamentary elections.

Overview: 

Serbia is a parliamentary republic in which political parties may form freely and compete in generally credible elections. However, political rights and civil liberties have eroded in recent years under Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which took power in 2012. The government has drawn repeated criticism for imposing various forms of political pressure on independent media and civil society organizations. Nevertheless, the country has moved forward in its bid to join the European Union (EU).

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • The governing SNS won snap parliamentary elections in April, but took 27 fewer seats than in the last elections in 2014, and the allied Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) lost 15 seats. Left- and right-wing parties not seated in the previous parliament made gains.
  • Voting was rerun at 15 polling stations due to reports of electoral irregularities and claims by the opposition that the SNS had stuffed ballot boxes, while international monitors raised a number of other concerns.
  • Following the SNS’s strong performance in elections for the legislature of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, a number of journalists were dismissed from the provincial public broadcaster in what many described as a politically motivated purge.
  • In December a former police spokesman was acquitted of endangering members of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that called attention to Serbian involvement in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. He had suggested in a social media post that members of the group should be attacked.
Executive Summary: 

In January, Prime Minister Vučić called snap parliamentary elections, which were held in April—the country’s third such polls in four years. The SNS won the most seats, and the allied SPS, led by Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, finished a distant second. However, the parties together lost 42 seats in the parliament, with the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the conservative and Euroskeptic Dveri–Democratic Party of Serbia, and the progressive Enough Is Enough grouping making up much of the difference. Vučić did not present a cabinet until August, leaving normal government activity at a near-standstill for the first half of the year.

Both domestic observers and international monitors expressed concern about the conduct of the elections. Voting was rerun at 15 polling stations amid reports of electoral irregularities and claims by the opposition that the SNS had stuffed ballot boxes. Opposition parties questioned the independence of the Republic Electoral Commission (RIK), and international monitors criticized its procedures for filing election-related complaints. The international monitors also expressed concern about voting pressure on public-sector workers by the SNS.

Vučić’s government continued its campaign against critical and independent media in 2016, notably by hosting an exhibition at a Belgrade art gallery in which media outlets that had criticized the government were depicted as liars. Separately, following the SNS’s strong performance in elections to the Vojvodina provincial assembly, a number of journalists, including top editors, were dismissed from the public broadcaster Radio Television Vojvodina (RTV), in what many called a politically motivated purge.

NGOs that have taken critical stances toward the government or addressed sensitive or controversial topics faced pressure during the year. In January, a brick was thrown through the window of a building where several NGO offices are located. In March, the director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies was placed under police protection in response to repeated threats.

Aggregate Score: 
76
Freedom Rating: 
2.5
Political Rights: 
3
Civil Liberties: 
2

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