Serbia could take a step closer to joining the European Union on Sunday when Balkan voters decide whether to modify the constitution to create a more independent judiciary in line with the bloc's 27-member requirements, according to Bloomberg.
Protecting judges and prosecutors from political influence is an important step toward bringing the former Yugoslav republic's laws in line with EU standards.
The power to nominate and fire members of the judiciary would be transferred from the government and legislature to top judges and academics if the ballot item passes.
Serbia has been seeking EU membership for more than a decade, but the country's disagreement with its former province Kosovo, which seceded in 2008, has stymied entrance talks.
The proposed revisions, which have the support of the EU and the US, will improve the rule of law by creating a more independent judicial system and correcting shortcomings from a previous overhaul in 2009, according to Justice Minister Maja Popovic, who also urged for a high voter participation.
Popovic said in a statement on the ministry's website that "only an independent judiciary and an independent public prosecutor's office ensure citizens' rights and legal protection in court proceedings."
A yes vote would pave the way for the country's constitution to be amended; but, modifications would still require parliamentary approval. The polls open at 7 a.m. and shut at 8 p.m. local time.
The referendum will also serve as a barometer of support for President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Progressive Party, with parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for early April.
When mainstream opposition organisations boycotted the polls over campaign circumstances in 2020, Vucic's party won by a landslide.
Nonetheless, the reform has exacerbated Serbia's already split politics, with opposition parties from both the left and right urging voters to reject the measure or abstain from voting.
According to Sasa Radulovic, a former economy minister and euroskeptic who leads the opposition party Enough is Enough, the new rules are a "privatisation" of state authorities and cede control over the judiciary to a small, unelected minority.
“They will keep appointing each other.”