March 25, 2019 / 7:11 PM / a month ago

Serbia's ruling Progressive Party wants early election: President Vucic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The leadership of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party (SNS) said on Monday it wanted a snap election to test its popularity a year ahead of schedule and after months of opposition protests.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade, Serbia, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

“We did not make a formal decision about early elections, but (the party) presidency decided, with me abstaining, that it wants an early vote. We are closer to early elections than before,” Vucic told reporters.

He said that SNS party leadership informed Prime Minister Ana Brnabic - who was handpicked by Vucic - about its decision. Under the provisions of the constitution Brnabic’s government must first resign to allow Vucic to set the date for the vote.

“Elections will be either in June or spring next year,” Vucic said. “I am authorized by the presidency to enter talks with our coalition partners about the date.”

The last parliamentary elections in Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership, were held in 2016. The SNS-led coalition and its partners led by Socialist Party enjoy a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.

According to recent polls, Vucic could secure support of around 44 percent of electorate, while the opposition is trailing far behind with around 12 percent.

Vucic, a former nationalist who later embraced pro-European values, first came to power in 2012.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Vucic said he had no plans to call an early vote.

The Alliance for Serbia (SZS) a grouping of more than 30 parties, started weekly protests in December, accusing Vucic and his allies of cronyism and corruption, violence and stifling media freedom. He denies this.

Earlier this month, protesters stormed the offices of the state-run RTS TV and a day later they blocked the presidency building in Belgrade city center. Eighteen protesters have been detained.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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