Serbian Premier Seeks Snap Ballot to Lock In Public Support

  • Progressive Party holds strong lead in opinion polls
  • Vucic faces opposition criticism over economy, media policies

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will ask his party to authorize him to call early parliamentary elections two years before his term ends as he maintains a strong lead in opinion polls despite growing criticism of his policies.

The ruling Progressive Party’s board is scheduled to meet Jan. 17 to “discuss the political situation,” it said in an e-mailed statement in Belgrade on Wednesday. The prime minister wants approval to initiate elections before his party’s congress on Feb. 13, with the actual ballot to be held later. Vucic’s party, together with some small political groups, controls 135 seats in the 250-member parliament.

The biggest former Yugoslav republic, which is targeting European Union membership by 2020, is trying to repair the economy after three recessions since 2009. Vucic reached a three-year accord with the International Monetary Fund last year to stabilize public finances and unlock growth. He must still tackle issues including bad loans and unprofitable companies as the government is struggling to sell state assets.

“Vucic and his party have for long considered calling early general elections because they want to reap the fruits of their popularity, which according to many opinion polls exceeds 50 percent both for the party and their leader,” Milan Nikolic, the director of the Center for Policy Studies in Belgrade, said by phone. This move is meant to ensure a fresh four-year term for Vucic, Nikolic said.

Economy, media

The dinar gained 0.1 percent to trade at 122.16 per euro at 11:26 a.m. in Belgrade after the central bank sold euros in the market. The yield on Serbia’s dollar bonds maturing in 2021 rose one basis point to 4.684 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Vucic, President Tomislav Nikolic and central bank Governor Jorgovanka Tabakovic were prominent members of the Radical Party led by nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj until 2008, when they formed the Progressive Party and won elections in 2012. They first entered a coalition government with the Socialist Party of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. Using early elections as a political tool is not new to Vucic as his party initiated a snap ballot in 2014, elevating him to the head of the government.

Vucic has been facing growing opposition criticism for issues including his handling of the economy, judiciary and freedom of media. He is also under pressure from the EU to make concessions over the breakaway region of Kosovo. 

One of the aims of the three-year austerity program with the IMF is to reduce the public debt from close to 80 percent of economic output. The agreement includes cuts in public wages and pensions, resolution of money-losing companies, increases in taxes and their better collection as well as shrinking the public administration. The IMF discontinued its earlier accord with Serbia in 2012 due to fiscal slippages ahead of the general ballot that year.

“The Progressives have done a very wise thing, they’ve taken over the program of the Democratic Party and started implementing it more decisively than the Democrats ever did,” Nikolic said, referring to the opposition grouping of former President Boris Tadic. “What the Progressives are good at is selling hope, telling the people that things are tough now but will be better next year.”

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