Tensions ran high during the inauguration of Serbia’s National Assembly on Tuesday, as opposition parties staged protests over alleged vote rigging in December’s snap elections.
December’s parliamentary and municipal elections, which saw populist President Aleksandar Vučić tighten his grip on power, have been marred by reports of irregularities, including vote-buying and ballot-box stuffing.
As the new parliament held its first session, opposition lawmakers gathered around the speaker’s stand, whistling, booing and holding signs claiming President Vučić “stole the elections.”
The protests were denounced by supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP), as they claimed the opposition’s resistance showed a lack of “patriotism.”
Opposition lawmakers refused to take the oath together with the ruling party deputies in the chamber as is convention, choosing to do it in the lobby instead.
“I think the citizens could see that this is neither a normal parliament, nor was it built on the will of the citizens of Serbia, but on the theft of elections,” said opposition lawmaker Borko Stefanović.
The president of Vučić’s ruling SPP, Miloš Vučević, accused the opposition of casting “a shadow on our country and our people,” claiming that their protests “showed the citizens that for them there is no one homeland, one state.”
SPP won 129 seats in the 250-seat assembly in December. The opposition Serbia Against Violence coalition finished a distant second with 65 seats.
An international OSCE mission found in a preliminary report that the parliamentary and municipal elections were “marred by harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources.”
The European Parliament is set to issue a declaration on the vote on Thursday. Opposition officials said the ruling party was in a hurry to hold the inaugural parliamentary session because the report is expected to include recommendations on next steps.