Serbia votes in referendum on constitutional changes – The Journal

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Serbia has held a referendum on constitutional amendments which the populist government says are needed for the Balkan country to move forward in its bid to join the European Union

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia on Sunday held a referendum on constitutional amendments that the populist government says are needed for the Balkan country to make progress in its bid to join the European Union.

The poll focuses on changes in the election of judges and prosecutors which authorities say are aimed at bolstering their independence in the country where the judiciary is widely seen as corrupt and politically controlled.

The referendum was hailed by the United States, the European Union and some Western countries as a step in the right direction. But critics at home say the changes fall short.

Some opposition parties and independent experts have also argued that the referendum was held in a generally undemocratic atmosphere, too hastily and too soon before an election scheduled for early April.

President Aleksandar Vucic’s government has been accused of restricting democratic freedoms, which he has denied. Vucic and other officials on Sunday urged voters to support the amendments and help the country move forward.

Around 6.5 million Serbian citizens were eligible to vote in the referendum. A simple majority of those standing decide the outcome. Official results were expected on Monday.

The government has urged the Serb minority in Kosovo – a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 – to travel to nearby towns in Serbia to vote after Kosovo authorities refused to allow polling stations to open the low.

Dozens of Kosovo Serbs staged a protest in the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo on Sunday. No incidents were reported.

Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, which was supported by the United States and most EU countries. Serbia and Kosovo need to normalize their relations in order to move towards EU membership.

A woman casts her vote for a referendum on constitutional changes, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, January 16, 2022. The government said the amendments were aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary and were part of the reform needed for membership from Serbia to the European Union. bid. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the media after voting for a referendum on constitutional changes, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. The government said the amendments aim to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and are part of the reform necessary for Serbia’s application for membership of the European Union. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Kosovo Serbs protest against the banning of ethnic Serbs from voting in Kosovo during the Serbian referendum on constitutional changes, in Mitrovica, Kosovo, Sunday, January 16, 2022. The Serbian government said the amendments aimed to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and were part of the reform necessary for Serbia’s application for membership of the European Union. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic prepares his ballot for a referendum on constitutional changes, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. The government said the amendments aim to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and are part of the reform needed for the European Union of Serbia. Offer of union membership. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Kosovo Serbs protest against the banning of ethnic Serbs from voting in Kosovo during the Serbian referendum on constitutional changes, in Mitrovica, Kosovo, Sunday, January 16, 2022. The Serbian government said the amendments aimed to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and were part of the reform necessary for Serbia’s application for membership of the European Union. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic votes for a referendum on constitutional changes, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, January 16, 2022. The government said the amendments aim to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and are part of the reform needed to the European Union of Serbia. Offer of union membership. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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