Sunday 18 February 2018

Serbian president calls early elections amid migrant crisis

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic addresses the media after dissolving parliament (AP)
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic addresses the media after dissolving parliament (AP)

Serbia's president has dissolved parliament and scheduled an early election as the ruling conservatives try to cement power amid deep economic problems and tensions created by the transit of tens of thousands of migrants through the country.

President Tomislav Nikolic said he had signed the election decree and added he would be happy if the ruling coalition led by the Serbian Progressive Party and prime minister Aleksandar Vucic wins the vote, which is to be held on April 24, two years ahead of schedule.

Mr Vucic, a former extreme nationalist turned pro-EU reformer, has said the early vote is necessary so a new cabinet with a clear mandate can pursue economic and other reforms needed for Serbia to become a European Union member.

All polls predict that Mr Vucic's populists will comfortably win the vote, with the pro-Western opposition being too fractured to mount a serious challenge. The election is expected to see the rise of far-right pro-Russian groups that did not make it into parliament in the last election in 2014.

Mr Nikolic, founder of the Progressives, said: "The opposition has no desire to carry out the reforms ... bad things could happen if the current government loses support."

Political analyst Zoran Stojiljkovic described the elections as "expected but unnecessary".

He said the Progressives want to strengthen their rule before they face "unpleasant" economic and political developments expected to hit Serbia in the near future.

Nearly a million migrants and refugees have travelled through Serbia on their way to central and western Europe. The far-right groups have criticised the government for its handling of the crisis, advocating tougher measures against the massive migration.

The ultra-nationalist parties have also demanded that Serbia should shelve its plans for EU membership and instead forge closer ties with its traditional ally Russia.

The pro-Russian groups have also demanded that a referendum on Serbia joining Nato - a move most Serbians oppose - be held on the same day as the early vote. Mr Vucic said the referendum is not necessary because Serbia will stay militarily neutral and will not join any military alliance.

Press Association

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