Serbian Elections Background

RS Election 2020 MM


Monitoring of Serbian parliamentary elections


The Beacon Project conducts regular online media monitoring using its >versus< media-monitoring tool which is free to its network of researchers (interested in joining?) to gain a deeper understanding of Balkan society and identify the gaps in democratic governance and societal vulnerabilities exploited by domestic and foreign influence campaigns.

Political tensions have been increasing since the election of Aleksandar Vučić as the President of Serbia in 2017. As the 2020 parliamentary elections neared these tensions began to boil over with street protests and calls for opposition parties to boycott the election. In order to better understand the media coverage of the elections IRI's Beacon Project, in cooperation with Serbian NGO Bureau for Social Research (BIRODI), is conducting online media monitoring on six of the country’s leading outlets. It is designed to complement the TV monitoring that BIRODI is conducting so that the two most used sources of news in Serbia (TV and online) are covered. Explore the results of the monitoring through our data dashboards; the most recent covers the period from March - May 2020. There is also an earlier dashboard that covers (Sep-Dec 2019).

Although the monitoring was originally intended to cover the complete period between September 01, 2019 and the election this was modified given the postponement of the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The monitoring will currently conclude with data from June 21 2020 to include data up to the election. Final findings of the monitoring will be posted on the site in July.

Sources of Political Tensions

Boycott - 1in5millionThere were several causes to the increasingly tense relations between the ruling party and supporters of the opposition. However, the majority of them stem from concerns over the rule of law in Serbia. Local independent journalists and international monitors have highlighted the limitations of political competition and freedom of speech as issues of particular concern. For example, the OSCE published findings about the use of public resources to support Vučić’s presidential campaign, as well as noting that disproportionate reporting and the general reluctance to report critically on the government has reduced the amount of impartial information available to voters. In November 2018, leader of the Serbian Left, Borko Stefanović, was beaten up and left unconscious by a group of young men. Images of his bloodied face sparked waves of protests in Belgrade. Opposition leaders blamed President Vučić for the attacks and accused him of bringing back an autocratic style of rule reminiscent of the Milošević era. Civil society activists and supporters of the opposition protested in Belgrade and other cities demanding more media freedom, as well as free and fair elections. With tens of thousands of people involved so far, the protests have shrunk in size but continue and are said to have been the largest since the downfall of Slobodan Milošević in 2000. The protests have been organized largely by a coalition of citizens called “One of five million” (#1 od 5 miliona) which is heavily supported by the opposition coalition called Alliance for Serbia. In February 2019, Vučić announced that he could consider bringing forward parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for April 2020, but opposition leaders argued that the conditions for a free and fair vote were not yet in place. Some opposition parties announced their readiness to boycott elections unless the government meet their requirement.

Why the 2020 Elections Matter

The current situation is a symptom of long term democracy backsliding which was highlighted by Freedom House in 2019 as they downgraded Serbia from the category of 'free' countries to 'partly free.' The decline in political and media freedoms over recent years has been well documented by reports from the European Parliament and International IDEA. IIDEA stated in their Global State of Democracy 2019 that ‘elites have taken control of the state to further the private political or commercial interests of a select group.’

In many ways, the current pre-election period resembles those seen in Armenia during the 2018 velvet revolution that brought down the Sargsyan Government. In homage to the Arab Spring, some online discussants have started to use the term ‘Balkan Spring’ highlighting their desire for mass change in the country. The question, however, is whether the opposition (or others) will manage to utilize the vucicquotemomentum and mobilization potential of the protests to gain power and reshape the Serbian political structures. An even bigger question is, whether the majority of Serbian voters are willing to prioritize the rule of law over the appealing notion of a relatively stable and strong independent Serbia as the current government attempts to present itself. Divergence on ideology and geopolitical issues has created disunity among the main opposition leaders which leaves many voters believing their choice is between the uncertainty of the opposition or the current populist government.

What will be Monitored?

IRI and BIRODI are conducting media monitoring on six of the country’s leading broadcasters. With support from IRI, BIRODI has been able to expand their existing activities of monitoring TV broadcasts to also include the broadcasters' affiliated news websites. BIRODI will use their in-house expertise on media monitoring to review and code the TV broadcast, while IRI's Beacon Project has developed a methodology for using its >versus< media monitor so articles published on the web can be easily reviewed and coded. The research aims to shed light on the impartiality of the media by monitoring the number of articles referring to the actors and the tone of their coverage. Additionally, the research will also examine coverage of four themes/topics that are relevant to the election process and the country’s geopolitical positioning.

Two primary methods of monitoring the elections will be employed

1. Monitoring coverage of candidates and other political actors

2. Monitoring coverage of topics


Scope of Media Being Monitored

In order to keep the monitoring focused, BIRODI and IRI agreed to limit the research to six of the major TV broadcasters and their associated websites. The selected media is composed of public and private, as well as those seen to be government-friendly and opposition-friendly.


Media pink logo


Prva logo


TV  Radio Televizija Srbije Pink Happy N1 O2  TV Prva


The monitoring team selected 10 political actors based on their relative popularity and/or potential influence while accounting for ideological diversity. Therefore, the list consists of both pro-government actors and those supporting the opposition. The main opposition force is the diverse Savez za Srbiju (Alliance for Serbia) which is an election coalition comprised of the far-right Dveri (Doors)center-left and pro-EU Demokratska stranka (Democratic Party), center-right Narodna Stranka (People’s Party), and center-left Stranka slobode i pravde (Party of Freedom and Justice). Together the Alliance for Serbia calls for ‘’creating the preconditions for fair elections, against pressure, buying votes and using resources of the country for parties purposes use’’ and aims to end ‘’undemocratic election practices of the Serbian Progressive Party government.’’

Candidates & Political Actors

This project primarily aims to provide insight on how the selected media portrays the politicians as well as to what extent the articles present specific positions on four topics. The data will help outsiders better understand the political situation in Serbia, shed light on the state of the media, and potential indicate the direction of certain political issues. It will also increase our understanding of the perceived programmatic and ideological proximity of the current government and the opposition.

Political Actor Current Position/Title Political Party Electoral Affiliation

Aleksandar Vučić

President of Serbia/Leader of Party

Srpska Napredna Stranka/Serbian Progressive Party (SNS)

Governmental Party

Aleksandar Vučić is a former prime minister and current president of Serbia. After leaving ultranationalist Srpska Radikalna Stranka in 2008, he became one of the founders of the populist conservative Srpska Napredna Stranka. He is a party president since 2012. In the late 1990s he was Slobodan Milošević’s minister of information. Vučić strongly supports EU accession, but stands against NATO membership. His resignation is demanded by many protesters.

Ana Brnabić

Prime Minister of Serbia Srpska Napredna Stranka/Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Governmental Party

Ana Brnabić was appointed a prime minister in 2017 after Aleksandar Vučić became the president. The party was proud to announce she is the first openly gay prime minister in Serbia. However, despite her important function and her big entrance she is known for staying in the shadow of the president.

Ivica Dačić

First deputy prime minister/ Minister of Foreign Affairs/ Leader of Party Socijalisticka Partija Srbije/Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) Governmental Party

Ivica Dačić is the former prime minister. During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Mr Dačić served as spokesman for the late former President, Slobodan Milošević. Dačić is pro-European while still maintaining close relations with Russia. In the past, as well as today, he strongly opposed to Kosovo independence. 

Aleksandar Vulin

Minister of Defence/ Leader of Party Pokret Socijalista/Movement of Socialists (PS) Governmental Party

Vulin is one of the key governmental figures. He often participates on high level meetings of international importance.  He is critical against the EU accession and Serbian military neutrality. He previously served as the minister of labor, employment, veteran and social policy and minister in charge of Kosovo and Metohija. He is a founder of a left wing populist party Pokret Socijalista, which currently forms the governing coalition with SNS. On April 21, 2018 Vulin was proclaimed persona non grata in Republic of Croatia. 

Marko Đurić

Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Srpska Napredna Stranka /Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) Governmental Party

Marko Đurić serves as the director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija since September 2013. He previously worked as a coordinator of the legal team of SNS and Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of the Republic of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić. As an activist he supported overthrow of Slobodan Milošević. As a result of increasing tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, Đurić was arrested by the Kosovo police during a meeting with local people in Kosovska Mitrovica on March 26, 2018 and escorted by police to a border crossing.

Vojislav Šešelj

MP/Leader of Party Srpska Radikalna Stranka/Serbian Radical Party (SRS)

Government Supporting Party

Vojislav Šešelj is a founder of ultranationalist far right party SRS. Šešelj and several other members of his party were charged from war crimes by ICTY. Šešelj is a propagator of Greater Serbia and close relations with Russia. He is critical towards the EU and NATO membership. On March 24, 2019, the anniversary of NATO bombing, Šešelj publicly burned flags of both organizations.


Dragan Đilas

Party leader Stranka slobode i pravde/Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP) Opposition Party/Involved in Protests

In 2018 Đilas founded Savez za Srbiju as a toll for unification of the opposition. Some liberal parties refused to participate after he allowed Dveri to join. In 2019 he founded SSP.  As a former member of DS, Đilas was the mayor of the Serbian capital city between 2008 and 2013. He served as the minister without portfolio in the 2007-2008 Cabinet of Serbia. As a young journalist he was active in opposing the rule of Slobodan Milošević, leading the student protests both in early and late 1990’s.

Boško Obradović

MP/Leader of Party Dveri (Doors)

Opposition Party/Involved in Protests

Boško Obradović is one of the leading figures of the street protests ''1 od 5 miliona.'' His right wing political party Dveri takes a part in the coalition of oppositional parties Savez za Srbiju, which announced boycott of elections 2020. In 2017 Obradović run for presidency of Serbia. He is one of the biggest critics of Vučić and the current government, which he blames from corruption. Obradović is well-known for his skepticism against the EU and the NATO and arguing for better relations with the Russian Federation. With its far right views, Dveri is the most controversial party in Savez za Srbiju.

Zoran Lutovac

Leader of the Party

Demokratska stranka/Democratic Party (DS)

Opposition Party/Involved in Protests

Lutovac is a leader of DS since 2018. This pro-EU politician previously worked as a political scientist at the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade and as a political adviser to the party. From 2008 to 2013, he was ambassador of the Republic of Serbia in Montenegro. In September 2019 Lutovac’s party announced an election boycott.

Miloš Jovanović

Leader of Party

Demokratska Stranka Srbije/Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)

Opposition Party

Miloš Jovanović is skeptical about EU and NATO membership. He supports unification of Kosovo and Serbia. After parliamentary elections in 2012 he became a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia . He was a member of the Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Delegation to the Francophonie Parliamentary Assembly, and a member of the Parliamentary Defense and Home Affairs Committee. He spent part of his life in France and has a law degree from the Sorbonne.

Sergej Trifunović

Leader of party/Activist (Support life) Pokret slobodnih građana/Movement of Free Citizens (PSG)

Opposition Party/Involved in Protests

Sergej Trifunović is well-known actor and civil activist who founded a charity foundation Support Life. In 2019, Trifunović became the second president of PSG. Trifunović actively participates in current protests. He also wrote an open letter to David McAllister, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, asking him to consider facilitating a cross-party dialogue on media and election conditions. Three rounds of inter-party European Parliament-mediated dialogue already took place.

Vuk Jeremić

Leader of party/Former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007-12) Narodna Stranka/People’s Party (NS) 

Opposition Party/Involved in Protests

Jeremić graduated from Cambridge and Harvard and was active in several pro-democracy student movements during the 1990s. He worked as an advisor to President Boris Tadić. In May 2007, Jeremić was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Later he served as President of the United Nations General Assembly and finished second in a run for the post of UN Secretary General in 2016. In 2017 he founded NS which currently participates in Savez za Srbiju.

Čedomir Jovanović

MP/Leader of Party Liberalno demokratska partija/Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Opposition Party

Jovanović is one of the opposition leaders. However, he criticizes the boycott strategy. This pro-European politician often stresses importance of taking responsibility for war crimes. He openly supports Kosovo independence and NATO membership.

For the purposes of this research four significant topics have been chosen as the primary focus, although additional topics could be added if they become significant during the campaign. Topics below were selected based on their importance for future direction of Serbian politics as well as high potential to shape election campaigns and coalition forming. 




Relationship with NATO

Concerned with how the media is portraying Serbia’s relationship with NATO.

Covers issues such as Serbia's future relationship with NATO (e.g. potential membership), perceptions of NATO activities in the region and perceptions of NATO’s internal organization.

Relationship with Russia

Concerned with how the media is portraying Serbia’s relationship with Russia

Covers the nature of political and economic cooperation with Russia, signs of prioritization of Russia in Serbian foreign politics and perception of cultural and religious ties between the two countries

Elections will (not) be Free and Fair

Concerned with if the media is portraying the electoral process as free-and-fair or not.

Related to the media coverage of allegations and demands of anti-government protesters and opposition politicians related to the quality and legality of election conditions.

Status of Kosovo

Concerned with how the media is portraying the status of Kosovo.

Covers how Kosovo is being presented relating to it being part of Serbia, an independent state, or something else that is somewhere in between the two options. 


The primary aim of researching the topics, is not to see how the political actors are directly discussing the topics, but instead is to see how the media coverage is presenting the topics. Therefore, the resulting data is not representing an endorsed position by the political actors on the topics.