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EU lawmakers seek investigation into Serbia vote fraud allegations with an eye to freezing funds

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EU lawmakers have called for an independent investigation into allegations of electoral fraud in Serbia and called for EU funding to be cut if authorities in Belgrade fail to cooperate or are involved in electoral irregularities.

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The ruling Serbian Progressive Party, led by populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, won the December 17 parliamentary and municipal elections, securing 129 seats in a 250-seat assembly. The opposition coalition Serbia against violence came in second place with 65 seats.

A vote monitoring mission set up by international rights monitors said in a preliminary report that the polls were “marred by harsh rhetoric, bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and misuse of public resources.”

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (which are not part of the EU) and the European Parliament, serious irregularities include alleged cases of vote-buying and electoral fraud .

In a resolution, passed by 461 votes in favour, 53 against and 43 abstentions, lawmakers noted with “serious concern” that evidence gathered by observers showed that irregularities “may have had a critical impact” on the election results, in particularly in the capital Belgrade, and “undermined the legitimacy” of the polls.

The resolution called for “an independent investigation by respected legal experts and international institutions” into all polls, with “special attention” focused on what happened in Belgrade.

The MPs called for “the suspension of European Union funding on the basis of serious violations of the rule of law related to the elections in Serbia”, in case the authorities ignore the results of the investigation or are found to be directly involved in electoral fraud.

The resolution angered Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić.

“I cannot put into words to what extent the European Parliament resolution is scandalous,” Brnabić said, and condemned opposition officials for going to the European Parliament to push for the resolution to take a hard line.

“They want MEPs (members of the European Parliament) to stand up for our citizens, for Serbs to be accountable to them, and I wonder how they can have the right to humiliate Serbian citizens like this,” Brnabić said. “Let them be ashamed.”

The resolution, adopted during the plenary session in Strasbourg, France, is not binding but constitutes yet another official expression of concern towards Vučić and his party. Vučić’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his failure to enforce EU sanctions on Moscow have dismayed many.

Serbia is a candidate to join the 27-nation EU, and Thursday’s resolution stressed that Belgrade’s membership talks “should only advance if the country makes significant progress on EU-related reforms.”

Serbia’s National Assembly held a tense inaugural session on Tuesday as ruling nationalists ignored complaints of election fraud and other irregularities.

At first, opposition MPs gathered around the speaker’s dais, booing, booing and holding signs reading “You Stole the Elections.” Others had photos of Vučić with a caption that read “The Mafia Boss.”

Supporters of the ruling party displayed a large banner denouncing the opposition.

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