Serbia's PM-elect promises cabinet "surprises"

By bne IntelliNews April 23, 2014

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Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic officially handed Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vucic a mandate to form a new government on April 22. Vucic promised "surprises" as he puts together a cabinet to push through his promises of reform.

Although the Progressives (SNS) have enough seats in the new parliament to rule alone, Vucic has announced plans to form a cross party coalition in order to ease the passage of tough new austerity and reform measures promised during the election campaign. The new cabinet - which is expected to include opposition leader and outgoing Prime Minister Ivica Dacic - is due to be announced on April 27.

Speaking at a press conference after meeting with Vucic, Nikolic said the appointment marked the "beginning of huge responsibility and work under constant public scrutiny". Stressing that he "sincerely" congratulates Vucic on the election victory, the president warned that it is now the hard work starts. "Honestly speaking, I would not want to be in his shoes, as Serbia is facing serious challenges," he said, according to B92.

"[H]ardly anyone received such a mandate under more difficult circumstances, especially after the bad decisions made in 2007 and 2009, because of which the state has a high deficit and the economy is not functioning," Vucic told the press.

The Progressive Party achieved a landslide in the the March 16 elections, taking 158 of the 250 seats in parliament. Dacic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) led the last administration as senior partner in a coalition with SNS, is left holding just 44 seats. SNS now plans to invite SPS and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians - which represents Serbia's Hungarian minority in the north - to join the new government.

The cabinet is also expected to include non-partisan figures. However, there are not yet any clear indications as to who will hold the key positions in the new government. Vucic, who began his career as an ultra-nationalist hawk but has since reinvented himself as a pro-European anti-corruption campaigner, told journalists that there would be "big surprises" in its composition.

Speaking to journalists in Novi Sad, Dacic claimed the cabinet list has not yet been drawn up, and that talks are set to continue over the coming days. "As soon as the future prime minister is ready to make the information public, he will do so," the departing PM said.

The centre-right SNS had been in government in partnership with SPS since 2012. However, facing opposition from the Socialists to his attempts to bring in austerity measures and reform the economy, Vucic moved to take advantage of high poll results to force a snap election in March.

The major mid-term target is to secure a new deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has called for an overhaul of the public sector and pension system, in order to reduce the budget deficit and state debt. Vucic's government is also expected to embark upon a new wave of privatisation following IMF calls for loss-making state firms to be sold off or shut down.

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