(Bloomberg) -- Serbian opposition groups launched a boycott of parliament in support of nationwide street protests calling for President Aleksandar Vucic and the government to step down.
The demonstrations put Serbia at the middle of intensifying anti-government actions in eastern Europe, as activists across the region decry what they say is a slide toward autocracy. Opposition parties have also led marches in Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic against leaders who they say are undermining the rule of law, though they’ve failed to force major changes to administrations backed by strong parliamentary majorities.
At least 45 of parliament’s 250 lawmakers pledged to back the boycott in Serbia, following 10 weekends of rallies by pensioners, teachers, students and doctors calling for media freedom, the rule of law and free and fair elections.
“In the seven years since the Progressives took power, parliament has ceased to be a dome of democracy,” Sanda Raskovic Ivic, one of the leaders of opposition groups that make up the Alliance for Serbia, said in Belgrade Monday. She said there hadn’t been a single debate over Serbia’s talks to join the European Union, which Vucic plans for next decade, or to resolve ties with Kosovo, which declared independence a decade after a 1998-1999 war.
The Alliance for Serbia, a disparate group of political parties and trade unions, won’t take part in elections that aren’t free and fair. Once the conditions have been met, the goal would be to go to the ballot to elect a government of technocrats to restore freedoms and institutions, according to a Feb. 6 plan.
Vucic, whose approval rates top 55 percent in opinion polls, has responded with a countrywide campaign of 100 towns and villages where he’s touting Serbia’s economic progress. He and his ruling party Serbian Progressive Party is also mulling early elections.
Last week, an annual Freedom House report on the state of democracy worldwide ranked Serbia as one of the top four decliners, along with Nicaragua, Tanzania and Venezuela. Its status was cut to "partly free," where it ranked behind Hungary, the first EU member to receive that designation.
Freedom House cited a “deterioration in the conduct of elections, continued attempts by the government and allied media outlets to undermine the independent journalists through legal harassment and smear campaigns, and President Aleksandar Vucic’s de facto accumulation of executive powers that conflict with his constitutional role,” according to the report.
To contact the reporters on this story: Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade at firstname.lastname@example.org;Misha Savic in Belgrade at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at firstname.lastname@example.org, Michael Winfrey, Andras Gergely
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.