EU, US urge Serbia to address concerns about electoral process

By Daphne Psaledakis and Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The European Union and the United States urged Serbia to address concerns about its electoral process after independent observers found worrying irregularities including vote buying during Sunday’s snap election.

The electoral process in Serbia, which has been a candidate to join the EU since 2012, needs to be improved significantly, two EU commissioners said on Tuesday.

“We conclude with concern that the electoral process requires tangible improvement and further reform, as the proper functioning of Serbia’s democratic institutions is at the core of Serbia’s EU accession process,” EU commissioners Josep Borrell and Oliver Varhelyi said in a joint statement.

The country’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) gained an unfair advantage in snap parliamentary elections through media bias, the improper influence of President Aleksandar Vucic and voting irregularities such as vote buying, an international monitoring mission said on Monday.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was reviewing the findings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission. Washington urged Serbia to work with the OSCE to address “unjust conditions” surrounding the electoral process.

The OSCE “did find as well that the elections were marred by numerous procedural deficiencies (like) pressure on public employees, and misuse of public resources, and that these factors together with the ruling party’s systemic advantages create unjust conditions. So we will urge Serbia to work with the OSCE to address these concerns,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The populist SNS won 46.72% of the votes in Sunday’s elections, according to state election commission preliminary results, based on the count from 96% of the polling stations. The centre-left opposition alliance Serbia Against Violence came second with 23.56% of the votes and the Socialist Party of Serbia third with 6.56%.

Observers also said there was misuse of public resources, a lack of separation between official functions and campaign activities, voter intimidation and vote buying.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Kanishka Singh in Washington and Bart Meijer in Brussels; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Leslie Adler)