Serbia’s Ruling Party Would Win Majority as It Mulls Snap Ballot

(Bloomberg) -- President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party would win an outright majority in parliament if elections were held now, according to an opinion poll, a factor that may influence the party’s deliberations on whether to hold an early ballot.

While enjoying wide popularity, Vucic’s party is facing opposition-led protests by voters who say his government has undermined democratic standards by suppressing rival political forces and using state-run media as a propaganda arm of the government. Last month, tens of thousands of Serbs took to the streets after some opposition leaders were beaten and public broadcasters refused to cover subsequent demonstrations.

An election victory would allow Vucic to reset the clock on his influence, with his government, run by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, starting a new four-year term before a regularly scheduled ballot for the third time since 2014. It would also give him more leeway in his balancing act of steering the Balkan state toward the European Union, which he wants it to join next decade, while also maintaining close ties with Russia. If no early vote is called, Serbia will hold elections in 2020.

The Progressives would win 54 percent of votes, above the 48 percent they won in 2016, if a ballot were held now, Politika newspaper reported Thursday, citing a survey by Faktor Plus. Their coalition partner, the Socialists, would get about 10 percent. The largest opposition grouping, Alliance for Serbia, which has led the protests against Vucic, would win 14 percent. No other party would pass the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the assembly.

Kosovo Question

The ruling party is “close to making a decision" on an early election, Novosti newspaper said Thursday, without explaining where it got the information. It said the possible timing could be mid-April and the main reason would be to bolster the Progressive’s position as Serbia grapples with Kosovo.

Brussels is demanding that Serbia and its neighbor Kosovo normalize relations if they want to become EU members. Talks broke down at the end of 2018 when Kosovo raised trade tariffs against its neighbor in retaliation for Serbia’s blocking it from joining Interpol, the international policing body. Belgrade refuses to acknowledge Kosovo and has prevented it, with the help of Russia and China, from joining international organizations.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have been pushing for a deal that would include redrawing their shared borders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes the idea, while U.S. President Donald Trump has urged both to work on a deal, saying one is “within reach.”

The biggest former Yugoslav republic must also align its foreign and security policies with those of the EU, including taking a tougher stance on Russia. President Vladimir Putin, the most popular foreign politician in Serbia, is due to visit Belgrade Jan. 17. Since 2014, Vucic has touted meetings with Putin and Merkel during electioneering to bolster his ratings.

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