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Serbian prime minister calls for early elections

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic wants a new four year mandate, even though he won an overwhelming parliamenttary victory less than two years ago. He says the new manadate is needed to ensure his EU accession talks.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is calling for early elections despite having an overwhelming majority in parliament and more than two years left on his current mandate.

Vucic's conservative party – paradoxically called the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) – won a landslide victory in March 2014, capturing 158 mandates in the 250 seat parliament.

But his call for early elections appears intended to further solidify his standing as he seeks to push ahead with accession talks with the European Union.

"It is my decision ... to go for elections, for victory, for the future of Serbia," Vucic told an SNS board meeting in Belgrade.

Serbia opened negotiations in two policy areas with the EU last month, though membership remains a long way off.

Serbia's pursuit of EU membership is complicated by its fraught relationship with Kosovo.

Now a sovereign state, Kosovo was not only a Serbian province until just eight years ago, but is widely regarded by most Serbs as the cradle of their civilization. As such, the country vehemently opposes Kosovo's independence.

Kosovo's sovereignty

And with the backing of its historical patron, Moscow, Belgrade has refused to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty – an invoilable precondition for EU membership.

Despite its historical Serbian legacy, the province has nonetheless been a predominantly Albanian enclave for more than 25 years.

In the 1990s Vucic was a hardline nationalist and an information minister during the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

A fire was set during a demonstration in Kosovo over Serbia's EU-accession talks.

Serbia's possible EU accession is controversial in Serbia and Kosovo, where protesers set a government building alight

Milosevic presided over a series of ill-fated regional wars, in a thinly veiled guise to create a Greater Serbia. That included a military campaign against Kosovo, which ultimately led to Milosevic's ouster after NATO forces intervened on behalf of the largely defenseless Albanians.

Vucic broke with the Serbian Radical Party in 2008 and recast himself as a reformer who wants to bring the country into the EU, although he has also maintained close ties with Russia.

Polls show Vucic remains very popular and would likely retain a strong parliamentary majority, which would reaffirm his mandate to push for EU membership over the next four years. Further enhancing his prospects is deeply divided opposition.

Critics, however, accuse him of autocratic rule, stifling press freedoms and failing to turn around a moribund economy. He cut public sector wages and pensions as part of a $1.31 billion ($1.2 billion euro) loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Parliamentary speaker Maja Gojkovic, a close ally of Vucic, said the parliamentary vote would coincide with municipal and provincial elections due in early spring.

bik/jlw (Reuters, dpa)

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