Serbia heads towards snap election

by Reuters
Saturday, 25 January 2014 11:07 GMT

* Minister quits amid row over reforms

* Centre-right SNS party to seek early election

* SNS leader Vucic in running for post of PM

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Serbia's dominant SNS party said on Saturday it would seek an early parliamentary election, cashing in on a surge in popularity after just 17 months in power.

Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he would propose early polls at a meeting of the centre-right movement's leadership on Sunday, ending weeks of speculation about a possible March 16 ballot.

"It's time to settle the bill," he told a party congress. "It's up to us to take the risk and if the people so decide, we'll leave power."

Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party, already the largest in the ruling coalition, has been clamouring for an early election, saying an even stronger mandate would help accelerate the pace of structural reforms essential to the country's recovery from a decade of war and isolation in the 1990s.

Tensions within the coalition over the pace and depth of those reforms saw Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic, a non-party member of the cabinet, resign on Saturday.

Radulovic had threatened to quit this month amid resistance from unions and some in the government to reforms aimed at liberalising the labour market and cutting loose dozens of loss-making state firms.

The SNS is riding high in opinion polls, thanks largely to the personal popularity of Vucic and a high-profile anti-graft campaign he has been waging.

A big win for the SNS would almost certainly see Vucic become prime minister.

Once an ultranationalist disciple of the 'Greater Serbia' ideology that fuelled the wars of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European reformer, embracing Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

The EU opened accession negotiations with Serbia on Jan. 21, but the country is unlikely to join before 2020.

Vucic did not spell out how he would bring about an early election if, as expected, his party backs the idea.

But, with Prime Minister Ivica Dacic opposing an early poll, analysts said that either a majority of cabinet ministers would have to quit, or the SNS could force a confidence vote in parliament and bring down the government.

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