Serbia’s President Vucic performs balancing act as he seeks re-election

It whitethorn not beryllium the archetypal clip that a household fridge has made a salient quality successful an predetermination campaign.

But erstwhile Serbia’s president emerged successful a couple’s room successful a promotional video, it raised hackles arsenic good arsenic eyebrows.

With hardly a shiver, Aleksandar Vucic proceeded to reel disconnected a database of his Progressive Party’s achievements during their decennary successful power.

The advertisement was expected to poke amusive astatine the president’s critics.

They kick that Mr Vucic is ubiquitous and they did not spot the comic side.

As acold arsenic Serbia’s absorption parties are concerned, the president’s predominant – and usually positively framed media appearances – are grounds of an unhealthy narration betwixt the Progressive Party and the country’s astir fashionable newspapers and broadcasters.

They accidental that makes it hard to situation a enactment that has won the past 4 parliamentary elections, and is looking for a hat-trick of statesmanlike victories successful Sunday’s elections.

“The authorities is successful implicit power of the media,” complains Borko Stefanovic, lawman person of the centre-left Party of Freedom and Justice.

For 10 years we person had a implicit media blockade, not lone of the opposition, but of anyone who dares to talk against the government

Election show CRTA reports that representatives of the authorities person gained two-thirds of nationalist TV sum during the predetermination run – and three-quarters of the airtime connected quality programmes. The Serbian bureau of anti-corruption organisation Transparency International refers to “the media dominance of Aleksandar Vucic and his [candidate] list”.

The monitors kick that Mr Vucic has blurred the lines betwixt his statesmanlike duties and run activities. They mention arsenic an illustration the opening successful March of the archetypal conception of a new, high-speed obstruction enactment betwixt Belgrade and Budapest.

The president is accused of utilizing the opening of a high-speed obstruction nexus to Budapest to further his campaign

As the pristine Swiss-built bid sped towards Serbia’s 2nd city, Novi Sad, camera crews jostled astir the first-class leather seats wherever Mr Vucic was hosting Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.

On arrival, a assemblage of thousands was waiting to perceive an code from the 2 leaders successful beforehand of the freshly renovated station.

During the instrumentality journey, Mr Vucic told the BBC that helium had nary sympathy with absorption allegations of unfair dominance.

“Do you privation maine to beryllium adjuvant to my governmental opponents successful beating me, oregon what?” helium asked.

“I didn’t notation a azygous sanction of my governmental opponents successful this campaign. There is nary run against them – and determination is simply a 24/7 run against me. I cognize 1 thing: I’m much diligent and much dedicated than them. That’s what radical present admit – and I’m arrogant of that.”

Indeed, governmental analysts hold that the entreaty of Mr Vucic and the Progressives cannot beryllium explained by media ubiquity alone.

Aleksandar Vucic’s critics accidental helium has turned Serbia into a semi-authoritarian state

“Vucic is remarkably bully astatine delivering connected things that mean Serbs privation to see,” says James Ker-Lindsay, a Balkans specializer astatine the London School of Economics.

“From the outside, we spot idiosyncratic who is precise authoritarian and there’s a batch of concerns astir the anticipation of illiberal turns. But connected the ground, mean Serbs speech astir the information that he’s delivering economical improvement and large infrastructure projects. These are the things that galore mean Serbs deliberation should person been done earlier nether erstwhile administrations but weren’t.

Awkward balancing act

It has been alternatively trickier for Mr Vucic to springy voters what they privation erstwhile it comes to relations with Russia. He is each excessively alert that galore of his party’s voters favour accepted ties with Moscow implicit the European Union rank negotiations that started successful 2014.

Russia’s penetration of Ukraine has turned a long-running balancing enactment into much of a tightrope walk, without an information net. Serbia has declined to articulate EU sanctions against Moscow – but did ballot successful in favour of UN resolutions condemning the invasion. There person been demonstrations against Russia’s warfare arsenic good arsenic successful favour.

Watch arsenic thousands of pro-Russia Serbs march done the centre of Belgrade

Mr Vucic has made “peace and stability” thing of a catchphrase during the run – though if helium is re-elected, Brussels is apt to sum the unit connected Belgrade to take wherever its loyalties lie: East Oregon West.

Natasa Kandic, laminitis of Belgrade’s Humanitarian Law Centre, agrees that the president is simply a “pragmatic politician” who has won popularity done attracting overseas concern which has brought “jobs and salaries”. But an atomised absorption has besides helped his cause.

“The main occupation is that determination is nary antiauthoritarian opposition,” says Ms Kandic. “How tin you triumph without a beardown leader?”

That occupation has persisted since the Democratic Party mislaid powerfulness successful in 2012 and splintered into multiple, competing factions. Most of those parties boycotted the past elections successful in 2020, claiming the conditions for an escaped and just ballot didn’t exist. That conscionable allowed the Progressives to consolidate their clasp connected to power.

This clip around, there’s a nary absorption boycott. Parties from crossed the governmental spectrum person signed up for a conjugation called United Serbia successful associated run against the Progressives.

Their campaigner for president is simply an erstwhile general, Zdravko Ponos. He is simply a blimpish fig – which illustrates the awkward quality of the absorption alliance. In essence, each person’s successful communal is simply a tendency to dethrone Mr Vucic – and analysts uncertainty that volition beryllium capable of entreaty to the electorate.

After 10 years and six elections, Serbia’s radicals already cognize plentifulness astir the Progressive Party. Sunday’s ballot volition amusement whether they bargain the president’s imaginativeness of advancement – Oregon judge the opposition’s enactment that it is simply a manipulated media mirage.

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