(Bloomberg) -- Serbia’s president said his country will hold early elections as he faces unrelenting opposition protests over accusations that he’s promoting a “culture of violence” and stifling democracy.
President Aleksandar Vucic, who has repeatedly called early votes when the popularity of his dominant Progressive Party is ascendant to consolidate its gains, didn’t specify when the ballot, which would be the third since 2020, will take place.
‘It’s clear that we’ll have early parliamentary elections,” Vucic said at a news conference on Wednesday. “The only question is the month when they will be held.”
Vucic and his prime minister, Ana Brnabic, are facing intensifying unrest from opposition parties spanning the political spectrum. The anti-government coalition has brought tens of thousands of Serbs to the streets in protest marches in Belgrade.
The predominant complaints are that Vucic’s administration has quashed voices from the opposition and media that doesn’t toe the government line, while allowing corruption to flourish. But anger also spilled over following two mass shootings and the worst outbreak of violence in a decade between Belgrade-backed ethnic Serbs and authorities in neighboring Kosovo.
Vucic said he would ask opposition parties to meet for talks. If they don’t attend, he’ll set a date for a vote, he added.
“As president, I’ll wait,” Vucic said.
Vucic has been in power as premier or president for a decade, running the Balkan nation of 6.8 million in a style similar to that embraced by neighboring Hungary’s illiberal prime minister, Viktor Orban, and leader of the nationalist Law & Justice party in Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Like his peers, he has faced down mass protests before, crushing the fractured opposition in multiple parliamentary and presidential elections. His popularity mainly stems from a flexible platform that, on the one hand, embraces close ties with Russia and rejects Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence, while also promising to clinch membership for the Balkan nation in the wealthy European Union.
But he is now facing the biggest challenge to his dominance so far after the two gun massacres, including Serbia’s first in a school, killed 18 people and injured 20 in May.
The shootings stunned the nation and fueled outrage, with Serbian opposition parties demanding an end to a ”culture of violence,” with the resignation of the education and interior ministers and the dismissal of Serbia’s intelligence agency chief. The education minister stepped down within days, but the others have stayed on and accused the opponents of trying to exploit the deaths for political gain.
Vucic also pledged to boost most public sector wages and pensions, in two stages by September and early next year, by a cumulative 11% to 16% to compensate workers for double-digit inflation.
(Updates with plan to increase public wages, pensions in new final paragraph.)
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