Serb Leader Mulls Third Snap Vote Since 2014 to Cement PowerBy
Early parliamentary vote may accompany Belgrade mayor ballot
President Vucic has used snap votes to wrong-foot opposition
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s Progressive Party is considering triggering the third snap parliamentary elections since 2014 as it moves to further consolidate power in the European Union candidate.
Vucic, a former ally of war-time leader Slobodan Milosevic, said his party are discussing early elections this week. His party won snap ballots in both 2014 and last year before he shifted from the job of prime minister by winning an April presidential vote. His critics say that he’s transferred power to the officially more ceremonial role and pulls the strings behind the cabinet of his hand-picked replacement, Premier Ana Brnabic.
Vucic and his party are facing a rise in discontent as an austerity drive under a three-year cost-cutting IMF program that has squeezed economic growth. Teachers are calling for higher pay and pensioners are demanding their retirement checks be restored to levels seen before 2014 when the cuts started. The president said late Monday the party would discuss potentially linking snap elections to a mayoral ballot in Belgrade, where his Progressives don’t have a strong position, that’s due by March.
“People in my party are unanimous about parliamentary elections,” he told private TV broadcaster Pink in an interview late on Monday. “If we go for both parliamentary and Belgrade elections, they can’t be organized in December. Rather in March, perhaps February.”
Vucic has vowed to prepare the country of 7.2 million people for EU entry by the end of the decade. But that plan is fraught with challenges as he tries to maintain close ties with Russia and normalize ties with Kosovo, a requirement for membership and a flashpoint for the many Serbs who refuse to recognize the 2008 unilateral declaration of independence by Pristina.
EU officials have urged Serbia to align its foreign and security policy with that of the 28-member bloc, which some Russian-leaning government officials and media have denounced as a demand that Belgrade break ties with its longtime political ally Moscow.
“There are two reasons for snap elections, one being that citizens are practically given no time to realize what happened with pledges made during the previous election campaign, and the other is a matter of political engineering designed to stay in power,” Bojan Klacar, a researcher at the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, said by phone on Monday. “There is a constant atmosphere of suspense and elevated tension.”
The Belgrade-based Novosti newspaper cited the ruling party’s weak rating in Belgrade, along with “open U.S. pressure on Serbia to respect the territorial integrity of Kosovo and split with Russia” as reasons for an early ballot. Holding Belgrade mayoral elections with early vote for parliament may help the party’s ranking, Klacar said.
"It’s not about some deep political, social or economic crisis," Klacar said. "There is one person who knows if and when the election will be held,” he said, referring to Vucic.