Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Sunday he had decided to call a snap election in a move designed to cement his leadership and help advance the Balkan country’s negotiations to join the European Union.
Vucic’s conservative Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won the last election in March 2014 in a landslide and still enjoy strong poll ratings despite cuts in public sector wages and pensions as part of a 1.2 billion euro ($1.31 billion) loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.
“It is my decision … to go for elections, for victory, for the future of Serbia,” Vucic told an SNS board meeting in Belgrade, Reuters reported.
Vucic must now inform Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic about the dissolution of his government. Nikolic then picks a date for the vote, which must be held between 45 and 60 days of his announcement.
Earlier on Sunday, parliamentary speaker Maja Gojkovic, a top ally of Vucic, said the parliamentary vote would coincide with municipal and provincial elections due in early spring.
Serbia opened negotiations with the EU last month in two policy areas, though membership of the wealthy bloc is still far off. Belgrade’s troubled relations with its former province of Kosovo – now recognized by many countries, though not by Serbia, as a sovereign state – are a major obstacle to its EU progress.
Vucic accused the opposition led by the Democratic Party of bringing Serbia to the brink of collapse during its rule following the ouster of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
“We have decided to break that bond between politicians, tycoons, crime and corruption,” he said, adding he would also crack down on graft within his own party.
His critics say Vucic’s rule has become autocratic and accuse him of stifling media freedoms and doing too little to help the economy, charges the Progressives reject.
Vucic, a hardline nationalist during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and information minister under Milosevic, broke with his Serbian Radical Party in 2008, formed the Progressive Party and re-branded himself as a pro-Western reformer.