Polling stations close in Serbian election

Winner will have to focus on overhauling ailing economy in country where many are financially desperate.

    Serbians went to the polls again after the Progressive Party (SNS) forced the snap election after just 18 months in coalition government, saying it needed a stronger mandate to pursue a much-needed overhaul of the Serbian economy.

    Turnout was about 41 percent three hours before the polling stations were to close on Sunday, slightly less than during the 2012 parliamentary election that brought the SNS, former allies of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, back to power in Serbia.

    The centre-right SNS, led by former ultra-nationalist Aleksandar Vucic, bid in the election to cement its grip on power for the next four years.

    Opinion polls suggest it may win more than 40 percent of the vote, a haul unprecedented in the almost 14 years since Serbia came in from the cold with the toppling of Slobodan Milosevic. Vucic is likely to become prime minister.

    The party's domination owes much to Vucic's personal popularity as the face of a popular crusade against crime and corruption.

    The opposition, led by the Democrats who held power from Milosevic's removal in 2000 until 2012, is warning voters against handing too much power to Vucic, who up until five years ago was an anti-Western disciple of the Greater Serbia ideology that fuelled the wars of Yugoslavia's bloody demise in the 1990s.

    Vucic converted to the cause of EU membership in 2008 and is advocating root-and-branch reform of Serbia's bloated public sector, pension system and labour legislation.

    Economic reforms

    SNS has said a new mandate is needed to push forward with "difficult and extremely painful economic reforms".

    Vucic, who voted early along with his daughter, said his party "set his goals high".

    "I want Serbia to pursue a fierce battle against corruption, develop its economy, increase the number of jobs and for this we need difficult and painful reforms," Vucic said.

    "It will not be easy at all, thousands of other problems must also be solved."

    The country of 7.3 million people must commit to rein in its budget deficit and public debt in order to secure a new precautionary loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, which could come soon after a new government is formed.

    The process, likely to run beyond 2020, should help steer reform and lure much-needed foreign investment to the biggest market to emerge from the ashes of Yugoslavia. Serbia is a natural hub for a region with deep linguistic and cultural ties.

    Vucic's SNS is expected to bring several other parties into government, possibly to share the blame for what promises to be a painful economic overhaul.

    Opinion polls say the Socialists of Ivica Dacic, outgoing prime minister, and the Democrats of Dragan Djilas, former Belgrade mayor, will fight it out for second place, still a long way behind the SNS.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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