By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - The Serbian government replaced the finance minister on Sunday, paving the way for Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic to take over the post as part of a reshuffle ahead of elections set for next year.
"I am assuming the finance minister portfolio," Cvetkovic, 61, who has a PhD in economics, said in a live broadcast by the B92 TV on Sunday night.
Departing from the position is Diana Dragutinovic, 54, a fiscal hawk who also has a doctorate in economics, but who was seen as lacking political weight within coalition government of the European Union member candidate.
A member of ruling Democrats, Cvetkovic served as the finance minister in the previous conservative government of Vojislav Kostunica until 2008 when he was appointed the head of the pro-Western government.
Seen as a technocrat with little public charisma, Cvetkovic will also keep his position of prime minister.
Cvetkovic said his new government would have 17 ministries, down from previous 24. It will also have four deputy prime ministers and one minister without a portfolio.
"This government is entering another phase when different engagements will be needed, hence the change," he said. "We will also have to tackle unemployment, one of our key problems .... Investors should bring new companies and new jobs."
Other key ministers including defense, interior and foreign affairs are expected to keep their positions, with some less prominent government figures set to lose their ministerial jobs.
On Friday, Interior Ivica Dacic, head of the Socialist party of Serbia, told Reuters the government would merge the energy and infrastructure ministries as part of the reshuffle.
The changes followed the sacking of the Deputy Prime Minister Mladjan Dinkic and the resignation of two other ministers from his G17 Plus party over the past two months amid rising social discontent.
"The new government will also have to reshuffle the 2011 budget as there's a need for new allocations to the new ministries," Cvetkovic said in the B92 interview.
Serbia will have to maintain its budget deficit at 4.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 and growth at 3 percent of GDP, under the terms of the expiring deal with the International Monetary Fund.
(Editing by Adam Tanner)