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Serbia's Government Asks President to Call Election Two Years Early

FILE - Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic arrives to address attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, Sept. 30, 2015.

Serbia's government asked the president on Thursday to dissolve parliament and call an early election after Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he needed a fresh mandate to pursue reforms and complete talks on joining the European Union.

President Tomislav Nikolic is expected to set the parliamentary election for April 24, two years after the last poll.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is well ahead in opinion polls, putting Vucic on track to win a second term.

Once an ultra-nationalist disciple of the "Greater Serbia" ideology that fueled the wars of federal Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a pro-European modernizer.

Asking Nikolic — who is from the same party — to dissolve parliament, the government said in a statement it needed "a clear mandate for the completion of the reforms to enable our country to reach the entrance of the European family of nation."

The SNS has 158 seats in the 250-seat parliament. Critics say it is seeking to exploit its high poll ratings before the more painful effects of reforms such as public sector layoffs kick in.

Investors appear to believe a future SNS government would pursue reforms pledged under a 1.2 billion euro loan deal with the International Monetary Fund. However, there are risks that an election campaign could delay reforms needed to curb public debt, which now stands at 75 percent of national output.