BELGRADE Serbia's Boris Tadic, fresh from defeat in a presidential election a week ago, put himself forward on Sunday as his party's candidate for the more powerful post of prime minister at the helm of a renewed centre-left coalition.
After eight years as president, Tadic lost his bid for re-election to rightist opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic, a former leader of the ultranationalist Radical Party who says he now shares the goal of taking Serbia into the European Union.
Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party also narrowly won a May 6 parliamentary election, but Tadic's pro-Western Democratic Party, which came second, is poised to retain control of the government in a fresh coalition with the third-placed Socialist Party.
Together in power since 2008, the alliance has a patchy record on reform, but will likely keep the country edging towards EU accession in talks that could start next year. Coalition negotiations are expected to officially begin on Monday and could last several weeks.
"Asked whether I'm prepared to take on the role of prime minister, the answer is 'yes', on condition that the goals, principles and plan of work that I put to our coalition partners are accepted," Tadic told reporters after a three-hour meeting of the Democratic Party leadership.
Tadic was voted out in Sunday's run-off by Serbs angry over economic stagnation, unemployment of 24 percent and a culture of elitism and complacency that critics say crept in under the reformers who replaced Milosevic 12 years ago.
Under the Serbian constitution, the prime minister is more powerful than the president, who can hold up but not block legislation.
But with his party the dominant partner in the last government, Tadic steered policy from the presidency after installing technocrat Mirko Cvetkovic as prime minister.
By taking the post of prime minister, Tadic, 54, would keep hold of the reins of government for potentially another four years.
Last in power in coalition with Milosevic when Serbia was bombed by NATO in 1999, Nikolic's shock election victory rattled nerves in the EU and has driven the Serbian dinar to new lows.
The next government will have to act quickly to halt the dinar's slide. To restore confidence, it will need to renegotiate a 1 billion euro ($1.25 billion) standby loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, frozen by the lender in January over the country's rising budget deficit and public debt.
Nikolic, 60, has tried to rebrand himself from hardline nationalist to modern, pro-European conservative since splitting in 2008 from his firebrand political mentor Vojislav Seselj, who is now standing trial for war crimes in The Hague.
The West is uncertain whether the change of direction is genuine, but if his party stays in opposition Nikolic's ability to influence policy will be limited.
($1 = 0.7992 euros)
(Editing by Jon Hemming)