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Serbian opposition leader: upcoming vote far from democratic

March 30, 2022 GMT
Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice coalition gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Most of Serbia's democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice coalition gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Most of Serbia's democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice coalition gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Most of Serbia's democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
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Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice coalition gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Most of Serbia's democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
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Dragan Djilas, leader of the Freedom and Justice coalition gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Most of Serbia's democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — One of Serbia’s main opposition leaders on Wednesday said the European Union has failed to negotiate free and fair voting in the presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections set to be held concurrently on Sunday.

Dragan Djilas is a prominent party leader in the broad coalition challenging Serbia’s increasingly autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who now says he’s pro-EU membership and is looking to extend his 10-year rule.

Most of the democratic opposition boycotted the last elections two years ago, claiming conditions were not in place for a democratic vote. Meanwhile, an EU delegation has managed to force some changes to the electoral laws and conditions, but opposition leaders say a free vote is still not guaranteed.

“The conditions are worse than two years ago, but unfortunately after the EU’s position in this dialogue which offered nothing, we were simply forced to go to the polls because another boycott would really bring us to another nothing,” Djilas said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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“As for the campaign itself, there is no campaign here, there are some outlines of a campaign,” he said.

Djilas is the head of the Freedom and Justice party, and one of the leaders of the United Serbia coalition that brought together several opposition groups ranging from the left to the right. He is not running for office in Sunday’s elections.

Vucic, who hopes to secure victory in the presidential vote from the first round on Sunday, has profited from his almost full domination of the mainstream media that allocated minimal time to the opposition and their programs ahead of the vote, Djilas said.

“In such a situation, we fight on the field, we fight as much as we can, through (social) networks, we use every second of the time we get,” Djilas said. “Will that be enough in a country where there is no democracy, no freedom, no access to the media that demonizes you at the same time … we will see in a few days.”

Vucic has repeatedly claimed that the opposition has been crying foul to make up for its alleged lack of popular support.

Djilas, a former mayor of the capital, Belgrade, during a brief stint of pro-democratic rule in Serbia in the early 2000s, has for years been branded by Vucic and the state media as a “criminal, thief and a tycoon” who has “robbed” the state of millions of dollars. The claims have never been proven in court.

Polls indicate that Vucic and his right-wing Serbian Progressive Party will win a majority in the presidential and parliamentary elections, but could face a defeat in Belgrade.

Fearing opposition protests in the event of electoral fraud allegations, Serbian authorities have issued a stern warning.

“We have information that (opposition activists) will try to break into polling stations, break ballot boxes,” Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Wednesday, accusing unspecified foreign intelligence services of backing the alleged plan.

He claimed that police have “lists of criminals who (would) enter Serbia and help prevent the normal holding of elections.”