Serbia’s president has dissolved Parliament and scheduled an early election for 24 April as the ruling conservatives try to cement power amid deep economic problems and tensions created by the transit of tens of thousands of migrants through the country.
President Tomislav Nikolic said he signed the election decree and added he would be happy if the ruling coalition led by the Serbian Progressive Party and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic wins the vote, which was called two years ahead of schedule.
Vucic, a former extreme nationalist turned pro-EU reformer, has said the early vote is necessary so that a new Cabinet with a clear mandate can pursue economic and other reforms needed for Serbia to become a European Union member.
All polls predict that Vucic’s populists will comfortably win the vote, with the pro-Western opposition being too fractured to mount a serious challenge. The election is expected to see the rise of far-right pro-Russian groups that did not make it into the parliament in the last election in 2014.
“The opposition has no desire to carry out the reforms,” Nikolic, the founder of the Progressives, said, adding “bad things could happen if the current government loses support”. He refused to elaborate on the claim.
Political analyst Zoran Stojiljkovic described the elections as “expected but unnecessary”.
He said the Progressives want to strengthen their rule before they face “unpleasant” economic and political developments that are expected to hit Serbia in the near future.
Nearly a million migrants and refugees have transited through Serbia on their way toward central and western Europe.
The far-right groups have criticised the government for its handling of the crisis, advocating tougher measures against the massive migration.
The ultra-nationalist parties have also demanded that Serbia should shelve its plans for EU membership and instead forge closer ties with its traditional ally Russia.
The pro-Russian groups have also demanded that a referendum on Serbia joining NATO – a move most Serbians oppose – be held on the same day as the early vote.
Vucic said the referendum is not necessary because Serbia will stay militarily neutral and will not join any military alliance.