Serbia Approves First Female and Openly Gay Premier

  • Parliament backs President Vucic’s choice in 157-55 vote
  • Little-changed cabinet signals East-West balancing to continue

Ana Brnabic (center) attends a swearing-in ceremony at the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade on Aug. 11, 2016.

Photographer: ALEXA STANKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

Lawmakers loyal to Serb President Aleksandar Vucic approved the nation’s first woman and openly gay person as premier to steer a cabinet with some ministers who have expressed anger at NATO and want closer ties with Russia.

Ana Brnabic, 41, got 157 votes in the 250-seat parliament on Thursday. A U.S.- and U.K.-educated political newcomer, she replaces Vucic, who moved to the nominally ceremonial post of presidency after winning an April election. Following her appointment by Vucic, who as head of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party wields the power behind the cabinet, critics warned he will remain effectively in control.

Ana Brnabic on June 29.

Photographer: Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Brnabic has vowed to follow Vucic, the most popular politician here since war-time leader Slobodan Milosevic. His main goals include making the country ready for European Union membership by 2020, keeping close ties with Moscow, and completing an overhaul of the public sector and the economy under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The appointment of a gay woman to the top government spot in the traditionally patriarchal, Orthodox country may send comforting signals to EU leaders who have stressed the need to shore up rule of law.

“Brnabic’s appointment is confirmation that Vucic will decide the fate of the nation and that the country is now an informal presidential republic,” Timothy Less, the director of the Nova Europa political risk consultancy, said in an email. “I’m reasonably optimistic that Brnabic will be able to perform the limited job which Vucic has given her, namely to oversee reform of the public sector, promote economic growth and to talk to the EU.”

Behind President

The dinar gained 0.08 percent to 120.63 to the euro, its highest level in 18 months. The yield on Serbia’s 2021 dollar bonds rose five basis points to 3.319 percent by 9:10 a.m. in Belgrade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Brnabic has made clear she will not be the main decision maker and will “stand behind” Vucic’s decisions when needed.

The cabinet list remains virtually unaltered, with changes including pro-Russian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who has called NATO “evil,” for the 1999 bombing campaign that drove Serb forces out of Kosovo, moving to the defense portfolio.

The government has refused to recognize the independence of Kosovo, which has complicated the normalization of ties with the former province. That’s a key requirement for EU talks to proceed and one of the main sticking points that have kept the country of 7.2 million from rejoining the European mainstream in the decades since the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

Budget Continuation

Brnabic also pledged to continue Vucic’s program of cutting the Balkan state’s budget deficit while undertaking policies to lift economic growth to as high as 4 percent a year.

“Brnabic’s background in business and lack of a clear political profile make her something of a perfect choice for President Vucic,” Miha Hribernik, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in an email. “The president and prime minister are unlikely to clash politically, ensuring a great degree of policy continuity and increasing the likelihood that Serbia can maintain the momentum of economic reforms.”

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