BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia’s reformist Democratic Party and the resurgent Socialists of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic agreed on Wednesday to renew a governing coalition that would keep the country edging towards the European Union.
The alliance locks out the opposition Serbian Progressive Party, which narrowly won a parliamentary election on Sunday, but it will need the support of another junior partner to secure a majority in the 250-seat parliament.
“They share our values,” Democratic Party deputy leader Dragan Sutanovac told a news conference, referring to the Socialists. “We’ve been partners with these people for four years and there’s no mistrust.”
The two first joined forces in 2008, eight years after the Democrats swept to power with the ouster of Milosevic and tilted the former Yugoslav republic westwards following a decade of war and isolation.
Together they arrested and extradited the last Serb war crimes fugitives from the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia and in March Serbia became an official candidate for membership of the EU.
But the government had a patchy record on reforming the economy, the judiciary and the bloated public sector. Organised crime and corruption remain rife. Pummelled by the crisis in the euro zone, the Serbian economy will struggle to register 0.5 percent growth this year, while almost a quarter of the work force is now jobless.
The EU is weighing up whether to open accession talks with Belgrade next year.
In a statement, the Democratic Party (DS) said the Socialists (SPS) said they had agreed to support DS candidate and incumbent Serbian President Boris Tadic, 54, for a new term in a run-off election on May 20.
He goes head-to-head with Tomislav Nikolic, 60, leader of the Progressives and a former ultranationalist ally of Milosevic. Tadic narrowly won the first round on Sunday, and is the favourite for the run-off.
The DS said the division of ministries and posts would be discussed after the presidential election.
Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic, Milosevic’s former spokesman and interior minister in the last government, has staked his claim to the post of prime minister after the party placed a strong third and doubled its number of seats in parliament to 44.
The DS won 67, down from 102 in 2008 as voters punished the party for their economic woes and a perceived culture of cronyism.
“It’s logical that the party with the most votes nominates the prime minister, but ... if others have a good candidate we can discuss that as well,” said Sutanovac.
Together, the two blocs have 111 seats.
For a majority, they will need the support of either the pro-business United Regions party of former central bank governor Mladjan Dinkic or the staunchly pro-European Liberal Democratic Party of Cedomir Jovanovic.
The Socialist Party and its election allies in the United Party of Pensioners (PUPS) and United Serbia (JS) have made clear they prefer Dinkic.
Jovanovic, a former student protest leader against Milosevic in the late 1990s, has argued strongly that Serbia must face up to its past under the late autocrat, when over 125,000 people died in wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
“Jovanovic can be a minister, but he needs to change his policies and I’m not convinced he will,” said United Serbia leader Dragan ‘Palma’ Markovic, the larger-than-life mayor of the central town of Jagodina and a former ally of assassinated warlord and underworld don Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic.
Editing by Mark Heinrich