BELGRADE Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic called an early parliamentary election for April 24 after the government said it needed a stronger mandate to push through economic reforms and complete EU accession talks.
Nikolic signed a decree dissolving parliament live on state TV on Friday, then told viewers: "The time has come to re-examine the support for reforms painful for many citizens."
The government led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his SNS party has promised to downsize a bloated public sector and stop subsidizing loss-making state companies to curb the deficit and cap debt, under the terms of an IMF loan deal.
But the Fiscal Council, the government's top advisory body, has criticized the government for delaying the reforms that will include laying off of about 35,000 state workers.
Vucic asked Nikolic on Thursday to set an election date saying he needed "a clear mandate for the completion of the reforms" Serbia needs to take on in order to join the European Union.
Nikolic's SNS (Serbian Progressive Party) has a clear majority in parliament and is well ahead in opinion polls. Analysts say it is now trying to build on its strong position before the more painful effects of the reforms kick in.
Once an ultra-nationalist disciple of the "Greater Serbia" ideology that fueled the wars of federal Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European modernizer.
In December, the European Union opened so-called chapters of accession talks with Serbia, rewarding the country for a series of accords with its former Kosovo province that declared independence in 2008.
Investors appear to believe a future SNS government would pursue reforms pledged in the IMF deal as the Fund said it would delay completion of the fourth review until the new government is formed.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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