Serbia - Politics
The Republic of Serbia is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Since October 2000, Serbia has been led by democratically elected governments that have publicly committed to supporting stability and security in the region. There have been periodic spikes in political tension and threats of politically motivated violence in both the Sandzak region and south Serbia. In the Sandzak region, these tensions have led to sporadic, localized violence between competing political groups. This violence is usually directed at opposing party figures and has not targeted unrelated civilians or businesses.
In 2012, for the first time since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, all the leading presidential candidates and party blocs pledged to support the country's integration with the European Union (EU).
The constitution provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution provides for the freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected the right. The law obliges protesters to apply to police for a permit, providing the exact date, time, and estimated number of demonstrators. Police generally issued a permit if a protest was not likely to disturb the public or public transportation; otherwise, police consulted city authorities before issuing a permit. Higher-level government authorities decided whether to issue permits for gatherings assessed as posing high security risks.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press. A lack of transparency of media ownership, continuing government involvement in media ownership, and threats and attacks on journalists undermined these freedoms. The constitution provides for freedom of speech but specifically allows restrictions, “to protect the rights and reputation of others, to uphold the authority and objectivity of the courts, and to protect public health, morals of a democratic society and national security.” While the law does not include a specific provision on hate speech, it is a criminal offense to “incite” national, racial, or religious intolerance.
While independent media organizations generally were active and expressed a wide range of views, there were reports that the government pressured media. In his 2015 annual report, the ombudsman asserted that the media were still influenced by the connection between politics and money, most often through the financing of program content and advertising.
Political tension has increased in recent years owing to what a number of ODIHR NAM interlocutors described as the dissatisfaction with the overall political and socio-economic situation. Most of the parliamentary opposition is boycotting the sessions of the parliament. Weekly peaceful rallies are taking place in the capital city and across the country with protesters denouncing the rise of authoritarian tendencies of the government and the lack of media freedom. Several mediation and dialogue initiatives seeking to bring together the representatives of the ruling coalition and the opposition parties have not borne results.
All citizens who reach 18 years of age by election day and have a permanent residence in Serbia are eligible to vote, except those who lost legal capacity through a court decision. Although, the authorities have implemented measures to increase the accuracy of voters lists, some ODIHR NAM interlocutors expressed concerns regarding their currentness, particularly regarding deceased persons and voters living abroad. To address these concerns, the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government (MPALSG) created a working group, with participation of civil society organizations, to audit the voter register.
Any citizen who is eligible to vote can stand for the elections. Candidate lists can be submitted by political parties, coalitions of parties or groups of at least ten citizens. Individual independent candidates are not permitted. Candidate lists should be submitted to the REC and be supported by at least 10,000 notarized signatures of voters. The law establishes a gender quota for candidate lists with at least every third candidate being from the less represented gender.
Television serves as the primary source of election-related information, followed by online sources, social media and newspapers. Numerous media outlets compete in a relatively small advertising market. The large part of media income originates in advertising purchases by state-controlled companies most of which tend to award the contracts to the media either affiliated with or loyal to the ruling coalition.
In addition to state funding, campaigns are financed from contestants’ own funds and donations. The annual individual donations to parties can be up to 20 average monthly salaries, whereas a legal entity may donate up to ten times this amount. The donation limits are doubled in an election year, regardless of the number of electoral contests. Funding from foreign, state, public and anonymous sources as well as from non-profit, charitable organizations and trade unions is prohibited. Donations must be made by bank transfer. There is no spending limit.
While political parties generally note their ability to campaign freely, including in minority languages, some expressed concerns about biased media coverage of the campaign, the use of negative campaigning, potential pressure on voters, in particular on civil servants, and the possible misuse of state resources, especially in more remote areas. While television remains an important medium for campaigning, parties noted the use of social media as key means of outreach alongside traditional campaign methods such as rallies, outdoor advertisement and distribution of posters and campaign materials. Minority parties complain that due to the lack of financial resources, their ability to purchase campaign advertising on billboards or in print and electronic media is limited.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) and human rights defenders continued to raise awareness about civil and political rights. This takes place in an environment not open to criticism, with the authorities making negative statements, echoed by the media, on civil society in general and on funding of certain associations in particular. Harsh criticism against human rights defenders has continued in tabloid newspapers.
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