Serbia to hold snap elections as president calls for country to be ‘united’

President Aleksandar Vucic announced December polls amid mounting political pressure from domestic critics and EU.

Serbia will hold a snap election next month after President Aleksandar Vucic dissolved parliament in the face of political pressure at home and from the European Union.

The parliamentary vote and parallel local elections will be held on December 17, less than two years after the victory of the Serbian Progressive Party at the polls.

“We live in times that are difficult for the whole world, in times of global challenges, wars and conflicts when it is necessary that we are all united in preserving vital national and state interests of the Republic of Serbia,” Vucic said during an announcement on live television on Wednesday.

Vucic, who is in his second term as president, faces growing criticism from the political opposition and the greater public over back-to-back shootings in May that killed 18 people.

The president and his party, which has led Serbia since 2012, have been accused by protesters of promoting a culture of violence while cracking down on media and electoral freedom.

At the time of the protests, several pro-EU parties said the government had ignored protesters’ demands and called for new elections.

“Serbia is in a deep political and social crisis,” they said. “The demands of those who have been protesting for months were ignored. We need responsible people in politics who will solve problems instead of ignoring them.”

Vucic denies the accusations but will have to convince voters that he is serious about change.

Also in need of convincing is Brussels as Serbia makes a play for EU membership.

To secure entry into the 27-member bloc, it must follow the EU’s rules, which include sanctioning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, tackling organised crime and corruption, and strengthening the rule of law and human rights.

While challenging, the EU’s most important precondition is that Serbia normalises its relationship with Kosovo, a self-proclaimed independent state since 2008 that Belgrade still regards as part of its territory.

More than 100 countries recognise Kosovo as a country, but it has not yet achieved member status at the United Nations.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on Tuesday during a visit to Belgrade that Serbia and Kosovo must make more progress if they want EU membership.

Some observers believe Vucic has called for elections to delay tackling this politically sensitive problem.

Much of Kosovo is ethnic Albanian, although its northern half is home to ethnic Serbians who reject the government in Pristina.

The conflict between the two ethnic groups was a catalyst for violence and fighting in the late 1990s, and NATO peacekeeping troops have been stationed in Kosovo ever since.

Tensions flared in September following the outbreak of violence in northern Kosovo, leading Serbia to send troops to its border.

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