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Belgrade (AFP) March 16, 2014
Serbia's ruling centre-right SNS party was set for a landslide victory in snap polls Sunday, according to estimates, cementing its grip on power after pledging tough economic reforms and a route into the EU.
The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won around 50 percent of the vote, giving it a majority in the 250-seat parliament, independent electoral monitors CESID said.
If confirmed in final results, it would be the highest score in Serbia's parliamentary elections after the fall of communism in 1990, when late strongman Slobodan Milosevic came to power.
It would also allow the party to form a government with a four-year mandate on its own. The constitutional deadline for the new cabinet to take office is mid-July.
The SNS and its leader Aleksandar Vucic -- now set to become the next premier -- had called early polls afer Belgrade won support from Brussels to begin EU membership talks only after a historic accord with the breakaway region of Kosovo last year.
- Serbia will 'pursue its EU path' -
Tipped to become the prime minister, 44-year old Vucic, an ultra-nationalist hawk turned pro-European, said the first goal of the future government would be to push ahead with economic reforms and "solve the unemployment problems."
"We are facing difficult reforms... I am convinced that Serbia will pursue its path towards the EU and its fight against corruption," said Vucic, addressing his supporters following the announcement of electoral victory.
The SNS owes its popularity largely to Vucic's high-profile anti-graft drive that led to the arrest of several tycoons and former ministers.
Serbia -- the largest country to emerge after the break-up of Yugoslavia with a population of 7.2 million -- has often been seen as a defiant international pariah since playing a central role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
But with a fifth of the workforce unemployed and the average monthly salary at just 350 euros ($480), Serbia's leading parties now see membership of the 28-member EU as the only hope for the future.
Although Serbia still refuses to recognise Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, it forged a compromise deal last year in which it agreed to recognise the authority of the government in Pristina over the territory of Kosovo -- an agreement that opened the door to accession talks with Brussels.
- 'No change' -
But many Serbs, such as 45-year old textile worker Jadranka Milosavljevic, moonlight in the so-called grey economy, with no health or social benefits.
"Ordinary people will see no change. Look at me, it's Sunday, and I'm on my way to my second job to try to make some money for my family," she said.
But unemployed bank clerk Olga Petrovic, 52, said Vucic and his party offered "the first glimmer of hope".
"I know we will have to survive painful times, but at least I see a light at the end of a tunnel."
The next government will have to focus on reforming antiquated labour laws and cutting down on bureaucracy, analysts say.
Serbia's eight billion euro ($11 billion) budget is struggling to cope with 1.7 million pensioners and a bloated public sector that employs more than 700,000 people.
The new government will also have to push through a stringent austerity package, including the privatisation of more than 170 state-owned companies, along with subsidy cuts and tax increases.
But 64-year-old pensioner Borivoje Mikic said he expected no change.
"The barn is the same, only the animals in it change," Mikic said.
Only six parties, among them three representing ethnic minorities, are expected to enter the parliament.
The Socialists, the SNS partners in the outgoing cabinet, were estimated to have won 14 percent.
The pro-European opposition Democratic party, which has lost power in previous elections in 2012, has won 5.9 percent.
Analysts warn that SNS landslide victory might harm Serbia's political scene.
"It is not good for a democratic society to have such a weak opposition," said analyst Milan Nikolic.
Slightly over 50 percent of 6.2 million voters have cast their balots.
Serbia's electoral commission has to confirm official results by March 20.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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