Serbia’s president calls general election for April 26

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday called a general election for April 26, a vote seen as important for his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) to cement its hold on power.

“I wish a lot of success to all participants and a democratic atmosphere on election day,” Vucic said after signing the decree in his office in Belgrade.

Most opposition parties have decided to boycott the vote, accusing Vucic and his coalition of autocracy, stifling media freedom, attacks on opposition activists, corruption and ties to organized crime.

Vucic and his backers, who had an overwhelming majority in the outgoing 250-seat parliament, have vehemently denied the accusations.

Some of the opposition parties promote a nationalistic and pro-Russian agenda, The SNS sees Serbia as a future European Union member, but it also calls for close economic and military ties with Russia and China.

“Of course there will be passionate tones (during the campaign), there always have been and there will be, but it is important that everything goes in a democratic manner,” Vucic said.

The vote would also set the stage for Vucic, a former nationalist from the 1990s who has since adopted pro-Western policies, to proceed with an agreement on mending ties with Kosovo, Serbia’s former southern province, which is predominantly ethnic Albanian.

That agreement is crucial to Serbia’s bid to join the EU. Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after the 1999 NATO bombing against Yugoslavia to halt a bloody crackdown on ethnic Albanians during a two-year insurgency.

According to a January poll by the Faktor Plus pollster, the of coalition of the SNS and several small parties would win the vote with around 50% of voters backing. The Socialist Party, which is a partner in the outgoing government, is seen trailing far behind with 10% of votes. The turnout was projected at around 50%.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Larry King)