Serbian PM urges early election in 2016 to cement power

Serbian PM urges early election in 2016 to cement powerSerbia?s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference to announce the yearly results of the Government in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Vucic confirmed on Thursday that early parliamentary elections are possible in 2016. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s populist prime minister on Sunday urged holding an early election this year in an apparent bid to consolidate his power.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a meeting of his Serbian Progressive Party that the vote is necessary so a new, stable government can step up economic reforms. He said the current government has faced criticism from the opposition but also needs changes within its Cabinet.

“We go to the polls, to a victory,” Vucic said. “When we face opposition calls for changes, we need to let the people decide.”

Opposition parties hailed the announcement Sunday. Center-left Democratic Party said an election will show that Vucic has lost his citizens’ trust.

Vucic, a former extreme nationalist who now says he is a pro-EU reformer, became Serbia’s prime minister in 2014 after his Progressive Party and allied parties won a landslide victory in a parliamentary vote.

The coalition still holds a clear parliamentary majority, but Vucic apparently wants to cement his influence amid rumors of disagreements within his party. The government also includes the Socialists and several smaller groups.

Vucic has pledged to seek EU membership, but still maintains strong ties with Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally Russia. He has faced accusations from liberals of pressuring political opponents and curbing the freedom of speech.

No election date was immediately set. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, an ally of Vucic, would formally call the vote.

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