Serbian PM threatens critics with early election, again

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2016 5:25 AM

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's conservative prime minister on Wednesday set a meeting with his party leadership to discuss whether to hold a snap election, a day after lashing out over his name being booed at a major sports event in Belgrade at the weekend.

A statement from his party said Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had called a meeting for Sunday, Jan. 17, of the main board at which he would seek the right to decide on elections without waiting for a party congress on Feb. 13.

It marks the second time in months that Vucic has threatened his opponents with a snap election that polls suggest his Serbian Progressive Party would win. His critics say Vucic's government is increasingly autocratic, has stifled media freedom and done little of note on the economic front, accusations the Progressives reject.

Vucic has offered no other political reason to hold an early election other than to answer critics.

On Tuesday he said he planned to talk to his advisers about the possibility of holding an early election after his name and that of President Tomislav Nikolic were booed during the opening of the European waterpolo championship in Belgrade on Sunday.

"There were 500 to 1,000 (fans) who said, 'let's destroy everything, let’s behave like louts, make a political event of it,'" Vucic told reporters. Although he was not present at the event, his ally Nikolic was in attendance.

"I'll give them what they want and let them make an even bigger political event. We'll have local and provincial elections soon. Will there be early parliamentary elections? I see everyone wants them, they say the government is working badly … The people should choose a better one."

Local and provincial elections are expected in the next few months.

The Progressives won the last election in March 2014 in a landslide and appear to enjoy strong poll ratings despite cutting public sector wages and pensions under a drive to stabilize Serbia’s finances.

Vucic was a hardline nationalist during the wars of Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s, serving as Serbia’s feared information minister at the tail end of strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s rule and presiding over draconian legislation designed to muzzle dissent.

In 2008 he broke with the Radical Party and formed the Progressive Party, embracing Serbia’s bid to join the European Union and rebranding himself as a pro-Western reformer.

(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)