For the third time in almost four years, Serbians will be heading to the polls to cast their ballot in an early parliamentary election.
On Wednesday, President Aleksandar Vučić announced he had dissolved parliament and set the date for the general election for the 17th of December.
Local elections will be held on the same day in several municipalities, including the capital Belgrade.
The election date came as no surprise as the populist Serbian leader had been campaigning in favour of his ruling Serbian Progressive Party for weeks, although he has formally stepped down from its helm.
“We are living in times that are difficult for the whole world, in a time of global challenges, wars and conflicts, in a time in which it is necessary for us all to be united in the fight to preserve the vital national and state interests of the Republic of Serbia,” Vučić said after calling the election.
A politically fractured Serbia
Ahead of the December vote, the traditionally fractured pro-democracy opposition parties have decided to unite after organizing several months of weekly protests against Vučić and his government under the banner “Serbia Against Violence.”
The gatherings began shortly after two mass shootings took place in less than 48 hours in May, leaving 17 dead, including eight children.
The opposition blames Vučić for creating an atmosphere of uncertainty in the country that formally seeks European Union membership, but has maintained close ties with its traditional ally Russia.
Serbia-Kosovo relations: a thorny issue
President Vučić’s announcement comes days after European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, called on Serbia to “de facto” recognise Kosovo.
On Monday, she visited Belgrade and underlined that the bitter dispute between Serbia and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, remains a great concern for the EU. Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
On the 26th of October, both Serbia and Kosovo walked away from EU discussions with no sign of progress despite efforts from France, Italy, and Germany to find a compromise and begin the process of normalising relations.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Vučić immediately began trading blame for the standstill.
The talks were chiefly aimed at putting into action an agreement that Vučić and Kurti reached in February, although the two have since raised issues with it. The idea was to work on new “proposals and ideas” floated in exploratory talks last weekend.
But Vučić and Kurti deeply distrust each other, and they are proving difficult for the EU to deal with.
Kurti said that during the meetings, Vučić had refused to sign their February agreement as well as an action plan for making that deal work.
The big problem is that neither Vučić nor Kurti wants to be the first to make concessions without guarantees that the other will reciprocate.
The EU and US are pressing Kosovo to allow the creation of an Association of the Serb-Majority Municipalities to coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development in communities of northern Kosovo mostly populated by ethnic Serbs.
Kurti fears such an association would be a step toward creating a Serb mini-state with wide autonomy – and has insisted that the formalisation of the recognition of Kosovo must come first.