Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has called for early parliamentary elections on April 24, halfway through his term, and said he will seek support for joining the European Union.
"It will be a referendum on whether Serbia wants to be a modern European country in 2020, whether it wants the future or the past," Vucic said in an announcement on Serbian state TV channel RTS on March 1.
With the opposition fragmented, Vucic's Progressive Party is the overwhelming favorite and is striving for a two-thirds majority, which it narrowly missed in the last elections in 2014 when it won 158 of 250 parliamentary seats.
The elections will come two years early, as they had been scheduled for the spring of 2018.
Vucic said he needs a full four-year term for reforms that will put Serbia firmly on the path to EU membership.
"I will tell you what I want to achieve in the next four years. I want our education and health system to reach a modern European level. I want every person in Serbia to have a decent job so we can eradicate poverty and offer families a higher living standard. We have to continue our fight against corruption and establish our country with one rule of law for all.
"These are all very big challenges. They are not easy but if we all stay united together we can deliver on that," he said.
Vucic hopes to build on improving economic conditions. Serbia exited a recession last year but grew at an anemic 0.8 percent annual rate -- a rate that is expected to pick up significantly this year. Its official unemployment rate stands at 16.7 percent, down from 20.9 percent in 2014.
And he also can boast about improving business conditions. The World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" index showed that Serbia made a significant jump in the last two years from 91st to 59th place.
"The hard work is starting to pay off and there is room for optimism," Mr. Vucic said. "2016 will be better for citizens, and 2017 even better, with dynamic growth as a result of the reforms and of even more in foreign investment."
Vucic was a far-right, anti-Western nationalist during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, but he moved toward the center after that. In recent years he became a fervent advocate of joining the European Union, and he now aims for EU entry by 2020.