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Serbia's Ruling Party Sends Controversial Election Bill To Parliament

Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said that "our decision was to allow the citizens to return to parliament." (file photo)
Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said that "our decision was to allow the citizens to return to parliament." (file photo)

BELGRADE -- The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has submitted a controversial bill to parliament that would reduce the electoral threshold for parties from 5 to 3 percent.

The SNS says the proposal would allow a better representation of the citizens in parliament while only being detrimental to the governing party.

However, European lawmakers and observers have warned that lowering the threshold -- only four months before Serbia holds parliamentary election and without consensus among all parties -- raises questions about the fairness of the electoral process.

Defending the project on January 22, Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic, who is also an SNS leader, said the party "is the only one that will suffer because of the lower threshold."

"But our decision was to allow the citizens to return to parliament," Mihajlovic said in a statement.

The reform was initiated by President Aleksandar Vucic, who also leads the SNS. He told local media on January 12 that the change would "bring life back to parliament."

Tanja Fajon and Vladimir Bilcik, the members of the European Parliament's delegation in an inter-party dialogue aimed at preventing an election boycott by the opposition, have said the matter was not discussed during the talks last autumn.

Bilcik told RFE/RL that lowering the electoral threshold was legally possible, but warned that changes of election rules ahead of the vote would put into question the fairness of the electoral process.

In an interview with the Belgrade daily Blic, Fajon said that introducing "radical changes" at this time would be a "very dangerous tactic."

She said that if late changes were necessary, it should be an agreement among the participants in the elections.

Rasa Nedeljkov of the Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability, a nongovernmental organization that participated in the inter-party dialogue, said that "in theory, in legal terms, a lower electoral threshold benefits the smaller parties, not the big ones."

But he said the timing for the proposed change indicated that the SNS did not really want to democratically improve the electoral and media environment ahead of the parliamentary vote but to improve its legitimacy.

"The change of rules comes at a time when most of the opposition is boycotting the elections. There is no genuine intention to democratically improve the procedures, this is just a calculative gesture by the ruling coalition to satisfy its own interests," according to Nedeljkov.

The SNS, without its coalition partners, holds 92 seats in the 250-member parliament.

Most opposition lawmakers have been boycotting the legislature for about a year, saying their right to be heard had not been respected.

A 3 percent threshold would not have changed the composition of the current parliament that was elected in 2016. All those parties that were denied a seat failed to win at least 3 percent of the vote.

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