Serbia's president eyes early parliamentary vote

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is considering calling the third snap parliamentary elections since 2014 to further cement his Progressive Party’s (SNS) grip on power, he said late on Monday.

File photo: Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic attends a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (not in the picture) after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Vucic, a ultranationalist firebrand during the Yugoslav wars of 1990s who a decade later has become committed to joining the European Union, said “people in the SNS are overwhelmingly for elections.”

The party is considering holding the parliamentary vote alongside local elections due to take place in the capital Belgrade early next year.

“There are serious arguments (in favor),” Vucic said in a live interview with Belgrade-based Pink TV.

“To avoid splitting elections and to prepare the country for European Union entry ... as new elections would offer us an uninterrupted time until 2022.”

He did not say when the vote would take place.

An alliance led by Vucic’s SNS won a comfortable majority of 131 deputies in the 250-seat parliament in 2016 and further consolidated power through a coalition with the Socialists that were led by late strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Vucic won in a landslide in a presidential election in April, handing his post of prime minister to hand-picked technocrat Ana Brnabic.

But his rule is facing discontent from public sector employees and pensioners over austerity measures imposed under a three-year 1.2 billion euro ($1.4 billion) IMF loan deal that has stifled spending and growth.

Although it enjoys backing in rural Serbia, Vucic’s party is less popular in Belgrade which accounts for almost a quarter of total electorate in the 7.2 million-strong Serbia.

Serbia which wants to join the EU by 2025, must first seek to reconcile its pro-Western integration bid with keeping close ties with Russia, its traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally.

It must also normalize ties with Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic Albanian former southern province, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy