Serbia's parliament picks former foreign minister as speaker

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s new parliament on Thursday chose as its speaker the country's former foreign minister, who was once an ally of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Ivica Dacic was backed by 224 of the 225 lawmakers present in the 250-seat legislature, which is overwhelmingly packed with allies of Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic.

Dacic said it was an “overwhelming honor” for him to be elected to what is formally the second most senior position in the country.

Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party swept the June 21 parliamentary vote that was boycotted by several of the main opposition parties. The Progressives won 188 seats in the assembly. The remainder went to Vucic’s allies or to minority groups.

The opposition boycott was carried out citing the lack of free and fair voting conditions and a danger to public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But a number of smaller parties decided to run, saying the boycott only sidelined an already marginalized opposition.

Even before the new government has been formed, Vucic on Tuesday announced that an early parliamentary election will be held in April 2022.

Analysts believe that his decision is a result of pressure from the European Union whose officials have voiced concern that the June vote was neither free nor fair. Serbia is formally seeking membership in the bloc.