BELGRADE Serbia's resurgent Socialists said on Tuesday they were prepared to revive a coalition with the pro-Western Democratic Party after inconclusive elections but indicated they expected to lead the government.
The alliance would likely keep Serbia on track to open membership talks with the European Union, but had a patchy record over the last four years on reforming the economy, the judiciary and the bloated public sector.
With 14.7 percent in Sunday's election, the Socialist Party of Serbia, formerly led by late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, doubled its number of seats in the new parliament, coming third behind the Democratic Party and the opposition Serbian Progressive Party.
The Socialists could offer their support to either party.
But leader Ivica Dacic, Milosevic's former spokesman and interior minister in the last government, said he was prepared to endorse Democratic Party leader Boris Tadic for a new term as president in a run-off on May 20 against Tomislav Nikolic, a former hardline nationalist and leader of the Progressives.
The endorsement would have to be part of a framework deal on a new ruling coalition, he said in two newspaper interviews.
"I would like that cooperation to continue and, given that, I'm ready to support Tadic in the second round," Dacic told the Serbian daily Press.
But, in comments to the daily Blic, he added: "It's not acceptable that we offer our support, and then talk about the government after the elections".
"If the candidate that we support wins, it's absolutely logical that he proposes our candidate for the post of prime minister."
The Democratic Party has not indicated whether it would agree to cede the post of prime minister to its junior partner.
But the party is on the back foot, having seen its support tumble from 38 percent in 2008 to 22.3 percent, punished by voters angry over the state of the economy and a perceived culture of cronyism.
Together the Socialists and the Democratic Party would have 113 lawmakers in the 250-seat parliament. They would need to recruit either the United Regions party of former central bank governor Mladjan Dinkic or the Liberal Democratic Party of Cedomir Jovanovic.
Jovanovic, a student protest leader against Milosevic and former senior member of the Democratic Party, has argued strongly that Serbia should face up to its central role in the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.
He and Dacic would be uneasy partners, with Dacic unapologetic for the Socialists' past under Milosevic, when the country was plunged into poverty and isolation and over 100,000 people died in wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
(Writing by Matt Robinson Editing by Maria Golovnina)