Serbia’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is to nominate Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as a candidate for the presidency, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on Tuesday.
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. 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 Vucic preserves control over his party, his political power will be unlimited,” said Nebojsa Spaic, a Belgrade-based media consultant.
The vote will be a key test of the popularity of Vucic 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.
“Unanimously. It is Vucic,” Stefanovic, a key ally of the premier, told reporters after a meeting of the SNS’s party leadership. According to polls, Vucic would win the election in the first round with more than 50 percent of votes. The party decided not to support the candidacy of incumbent President Tomislav Nikolic, a former ultranationalist and the former head of the SNS who started his five-year mandate in 2012.
The departure of Nikolic, who favors 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.
It was not immediately clear whether Vucic will decide to seek a parliamentary vote alongside the presidential election, though such a move is not mandatory. In a statement, the SNS said Vucic, 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 Stojiljkovic, a lecturer with Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Sciences said that Vucic’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 Vucic will pick someone with a degree of authority, (good) ratings and with unquestionable loyalty,” Stojiljkovic said.
After the meeting Vucic refused to elaborate on his party’s decision, but he is due to appear on state TV RTS later in the evening.