Serbia approves changes to judicial system in referendum marred by low turnout

Almost two-thirds voted in favor of constitutional amendments to its judiciary appointments in what some regarded as an endorsement of the country’s desire to join the European Union

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Magyar Nemzet
A woman arrives at a polling station to vote in a referendum on constitutional changes, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. The government has said the amendments are designed to boost independence of the judiciary and are part of reform needed for Serbia's European Union membership bid. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbia voted in favor of constitutional amendments in a referendum on Sunday widely regarded as an unofficial endorsement of the country’s prospective European Union membership.

According to preliminary votes, almost two thirds of Serbians voted for a change in the country’s legal system which would amend the constitutional requirement for parliament to approve judicial appointments.

Despite low turnout, the country voted 62 percent ‘Yes’ to 37 percent ‘No.’

Under the current constitution, the appointment of judges and prosecutors must be approved by parliament, which is incompatible with EU standards. If judges and prosecutors are appointed by parliament, the judicial system cannot be said to be independent. Therefore, many commentators also viewed the referendum as a nod of approval to join the EU.

However, the referendum was surrounded by considerable disinterest, with turnout at just 25.25 percent, according to an MTI report on Sunday night, but there was no validity threshold in the referendum after the Serbian House of Representatives decided to scrap the threshold last year. MTI also highlighted that the campaign was not strong, with the ruling parties arguing in favor, while the opposition said it had to vote ‘No’ because the information was inadequate and the planned changes were insufficient in their view.

“I believe that much will be done in the coming period in terms of further democratization of the country and a substantially independent judiciary,” President Aleksandar Vucic said in a statement following the vote.

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