Serbia’s ruling party to back PM Vucic for presidential race

Aleksandar Vučić [European Commission]

The leadership of Serbia’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) decided yesterday (14 February) to nominate Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić as a candidate for the presidency.

The presidential election is tentatively expected in April and will pit the SNS’s candidate against those from a fragmented and bickering opposition.

While the president’s role is largely ceremonial, if he also controls the parliamentary majority he could then have huge sway over the government and a new prime minister.

Last April Vučić won the general election by a landslide.

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In a live interview with state RTS TV, Vučić said he would accept the nomination to secure stability and continuity for the country, which wants to join the European Union.

“This is the most important (thing) and there’s no sacrifice or risk I could not take because of that,” he said.

The ruling coalition, which has a comfortable majority in the 250-seat parliament, can also appoint a prime minister without a popular vote.

“The president who controls the parliamentary majority, hence the government, is de facto the strongest political figure in the country. If Vučić preserves control over his party, his political power will be unlimited,” said Nebojsa Spaic, a Belgrade-based media consultant.

Vučić said he has no plans to resign from his current post until the election date is announced and refused to say who could be his successor as the head of the government.

Earlier, Ivica Dačić, the head of the jointly ruling Socialist Party of Serbia welcomed Vučić’s nomination as “the only rational and logical decision”.

“His victory as a joint candidate guarantees the political stability of Serbia in the future,” said Dačić, who himself served as the Prime Minister from 2012 to 2014.

The vote will be a key test of the popularity of Vučić and his economic reforms, which have been backed by the International Monetary Fund, as well as his bid to bring the country of 7.3 million closer to the European Union.

According to polls, Vučić would win the election in the first round with more than 50% of votes.

The party decided not to support the candidacy of incumbent President Tomislav Nikolić, a former ultranationalist and the former head of the SNS who started his five-year mandate in 2012.

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Vučić’s nomination will have to be formally approved by SNS’s local party leaders and prominent members at a main board session scheduled for Friday.

The departure of Nikolić, who favours closer ties between Belgrade and Serbia’s powerful ally Russia, could mean quicker moves towards EU accession and a further improvement of its ties with NATO, despite its military neutrality.

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It was not immediately clear whether Vučić will decide to seek a parliamentary vote alongside the presidential election, though such a move is not mandatory.

In a statement, the SNS said Vučić, who is also the party president, now must start talks with his coalition partners to “try to secure wide popular support for the victory”.

Zoran Stojiljković, a lecturer with Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Sciences, said that Vučić’s nomination was “a rational move aimed at accumulating power in all levels” and securing a victory in the first round.

“What remains to be seen is who will be the prime minister, most likely Vučić will pick someone with a degree of authority, (good) ratings and with unquestionable loyalty,” Stojiljković said.

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