BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's ruling center-right populist party said Saturday it wants to hold early parliamentary elections to push for economic reforms and cement its grip on power in the economically-troubled Balkan country.
The leader of the Serbian Progressive Party and deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, told the party gathering he wants to "test the will of the people" in the polls that are likely to be held in March.
The former pro-Russian ultranationalists turned pro-European Union reformers are by far the most popular party in Serbia. Vucic hopes the early vote will give him a mandate to become the prime minister and rule without the support of the Socialists, whose leader, Ivica Dacic, is the current premier.
Vucic, a leading proponent of Serbia's war campaigns in the Balkans in the 1990s, gained popularity because of his highly publicized anti-corruption campaign and claims he favors radical economic and social reforms that would bring a better life to the population hit by wars, mismanagement and graft.
"We did a lot of good things. We built good foundations," Vucic told the party meeting. "But I believe we can do better and faster in the future." However, Serbian Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic announced his resignation Saturday, saying the government led by Vucic and Dacic lacks political will to adopt his new unpopular labor, bankruptcy and privatization laws because of the upcoming early elections.
Labor unions have argued the bankruptcy law will pave the way for closing a number of state-run companies and major job losses. They say the labor law favors company management over workers. In the snap elections, Vucic's party will face a fractured opposition led by the pro-Western Democratic Party.
"The government that dissolves itself is sending a clear signal that it did poorly," said the president of the Democrats, Dragan Djilas. He said his party will try to form a coalition with those ready to form "a barrier" against populism and autocratic rule of Vucic and his party.
Serbia held its last parliamentary vote in May 2012.