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Serbian Progressives Pledge Reforms After Election Win

Ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) members celebrated the party's victory on election night in Belgrade on March 16.

BELGRADE -- Serbia's likely next prime minister has vowed to reform labor laws, bankruptcy laws, and privatization legislation no later than July after his center-right party won a clear parliamentary majority in snap elections.

Aleksandar Vucic made the pledge in Belgrade on March 17 as preliminary official results from the previous day's poll showed his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won at least 156 seats in the 250-seat parliament.

Support for Vucic's pro-European party comes after a tough drive against corruption.

Another party leader, Nebojsa Stefanovic, said that the Progressive Party will implement its promised reforms, starting with the adoption of 21 reform bills, by the end of July.

The SNS's partner in the current government, the Serbian Socialist Party, was expected to place second.

The opposition Democratic Party and its splinter New Democratic Party (NDS) were the only other parties to have cleared the 5-percent hurdle to qualify for parliament.

The SNS forced the early election halfway through the government's term, saying it wanted a stronger voter mandate to root out corruption and carry out reforms.

It announced the early vote in January, days after the European Union launched membership talks with Serbia.

"I just want to say that we are ready to extend our hand to everyone, and that we want to talk and cooperate and that we won’t underestimate anyone because of their elections results," Vucic told supporters in Belgrade after polls closed. "I am sure that Serbia will continue it’s European path, and I am sure that Serbia will closely cooperate with all its friends in the world, with Russians, with Americans, with Chinese and with everyone else."

Analysts say the SNS will now move quickly to secure a new loan deal from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But to do so, analysts say, Serbia will need to cut its budget deficit and public debt.

The new government will also need to slash Serbia's bloated public sector that employs more than 700,000 people.

Election campaigning took place amid a backdrop of gloomy economic data.

Around 20 percent of Serbia's workforce is unemployed, and the average monthly salary is 350 euros ($480).

With reporting by B92, AFP, and dpa