Serbian government asks president to call early election

by Reuters
Tuesday, 28 January 2014 13:22 GMT

* President to call vote Wednesday

* Election likely on March 16

* Centre-right SNS eyes big win

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Serbia's coalition government asked President Tomislav Nikolic on Tuesday to dissolve parliament and call an early election, after the centre-right SNS party called at the weekend for a stronger mandate to accelerate economic reforms.

Nikolic is expected to call the parliamentary election for mid-March, just under two years since Serbs last voted.

The SNS (Serbian Progressive Party), the dominant party in the ruling alliance, is well ahead in opinion polls, putting party leader Aleksandar Vucic in pole position to take over from Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.

In a statement, the government said voters should "have a say in the future direction of state policies", citing painful economic reforms, the fight against crime and talks that started on Jan. 21 on joining the European Union.

Nikolic is expected to dissolve parliament and call the election on Wednesday for March 16, to coincide with a municipal poll in the capital, Belgrade.

The SNS says it needs a new, stronger mandate to drive reform of the public sector, pension system and labour market in order to rein in the budget deficit, cap public debt and start luring foreign investors to the biggest market to emerge from the former Yugoslavia.

The SNS has 73 seats in the 250-seat parliament. It wants a bigger share so it can form a smaller, less unwieldy coalition or even rule alone, potentially pushing the Socialists into opposition.

Critics say the party is simply trying to cash in on high poll ratings before the painful consequences of reforms kick in.

A March election may complicate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a new precautionary loan deal, due to begin on Feb. 26. A deal with the Fund is crucial to reassuring investors that Serbia will stick to a reform path, alleviating pressure on the dinar.

The SNS has seen its popularity rise since it took power in 2012, partly on the back of a high-profile anti-corruption crusade waged by Vucic as deputy prime minister in charge of coordinating the security forces.

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 moderniser.

Some Western diplomats, however, are anxious about the power he has garnered so quickly in a country with a history of strongmen.

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