Serbian PM doesn't rule out early elections in 2016

Serbian PM doesn't rule out early elections in 2016
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade January 6, 2016

Serbia’s prime minister Aleksanar Vucic told journalists on January 5 that he would like to avoid early elections in 2016 but did not rule out elections this year, saying the decision would depend on various circumstances including the political climate in the country.

There has been speculation about early elections since summer 2015, fuelled by Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) officials including Vucic. The government is stable, as the SNS holds 158 of Serbia’s 250 parliament seats, but increasing the party’s majority would give Vucic a stronger mandate to push through unpopular reforms.

Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the SNS’s junior coalition partner, the Serbian Socialistic Party (SPS), Vucic said that he had discussed potential early elections with the SPS and the other members of the ruling coalition - United Serbia (JS) and the Party of United Pensioners of Serbia (PUPS).

Vucic said he would like to avoid holding early elections, adding, however, that “this is not up to me, this is up to circumstance and I will talk to my coalition partners about this in two, three months,” Tanjug reported.

Previously, some SNS officials said elections could take place in spring 2016 when local elections and regional elections in the northern province of Vojvodina will take place.

The head of the SNS parliamentary group, Zoran Babic, told bne IntelliNews on September 15 that early parliamentary elections would improve Serbia's political and economic stability, and that holding a general election at the same time as regular local elections in Vojvodina would reduce political tensions and additional costs caused by having elections at different times.

However, in an interview with national broadcaster RTV Pink on October 16, Vucic said he had made a decision that Serbia would not have early parliamentary elections in the next three to five months, since the government had a lot to accomplish by the end of the year.

Vucic added at the time that he couldn't say whether parliamentary elections would happen within the next six or even ten months, but that they must take place before the current parliamentary term ends in 2018.

An early general election could help the SNS to push ahead with planned reforms, assuming the party manages to increase its majority. Ongoing fiscal consolidation measures, planned closures of hundreds of public companies which are expected to result in 30,000 job losses, and constant increases in food prices are all expected to reduce Vucic’s popularity.

The prime minister said on January 6 that his government’s main goal is to continue its economic reforms with even greater force and energy. These include full stabilisation of public finances, the reform of public enterprises and speeding up economic growth.

The government set an end 2015 deadline to sell off all 526 firms in the Agency for Privatisation’s portfolio, including 144 firms that have been under restructuring for many years. However, the process has not been going well, and in May, Serbia agreed with the IMF to extend court protection from creditors by up to a year for 17 key state-controlled firms of particular importance to the economy.

These firms employ around 25,000 people, which means Vucic’s government could face difficult decisions to make if no buyers come forward.

However, if Vucic and his coalition partners decide to call early elections, they would have several months before the new deadline set for end 2016.

The regular elections in Vojvodina are not due to take place before April 2016. The region is almost the only one in the country where the SNS is not in power, as the opposition Democratic Party (DS) still holds the leading positions in the province.

The SNS and its coalition partners also decided on January 5 to campaign separately in the upcoming local and regional elections, though they have not ruled out working together after the polls. However, both Vucic and SPS leader Ivica Dacic, who is also Serbia’s foreign minister, stressed this did not mean a split within the coalition at state level.

“We haven’t agreed on the post-election coalition and it would be unfair to say that we are not satisfied by the government’s work,” Vucic said after the January 5 meeting.

Dacic told reporters there had been "no problems in the cooperation of coalition partners, and no differences on essential issues," B92 reported.

“I have no intention of changing coalition partners," he said.

Dacic also said that he was against early parliamentary elections, adding that elections “should not be games that take place every year."

Overall, the relationship between the SNS and the SPS looks stable but there have been recent claims in the Serbian media of a dispute between the SPS’s vice president Branko Ruzic and the SNS. Ruzic did not attend the January 5 meeting with the SNS.

In addition, among the 80 officials and businesspeople arrested by Serbian police on December 26 on suspicion of corruption and financial crimes were many officials from the SPS, as well as directors of public companies controlled by the party.