BELGRADE, Oct 28 (Reuters) - The Serbian parliament appointed a new government on Wednesday that will have to lead the country toward recovery after the novel coronavirus pandemic and steer it closer toward membership in the European Union.
The new Cabinet will be led by Ana Brnabic who also served as the prime minister in the previous term.
It will have 23 ministers, mainly from the ruling conservative Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its allies - the Socialists (SPS) and the Serbian Patriotic Alliance (SPAS). Eleven ministers will be women.
The approval by the 250-strong parliament in which the ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority of 230 deputies, was a formality.
In her address to deputies, Brnabic said that one of government’s main tasks would be COVID-19, which so far killed 803 people and sickened 42,208 in the 7.2 million population.
“Our priority would be the protection of people’s health and the support to the health system,” she said.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Serbia’s economy is expected to shrink by 1.5 percent this year and recover in 2021. To aid that, Brnabic’s Cabinet plans to invest further in infrastructure, mining and energy.
Brnabic described her government as “pro-European” but said Serbia will continue to balance between its bid to join the EU and maintaining close ties with China and Russia.
If it wants to join the EU, Belgrade must normalise ties with Kosovo, its former southern province, which declared independence in 2008, improve rule of law and root out organised crime and corruption.
On Oct. 20, President Aleksandar Vucic, who also leads the SNS, said the new government will be in power for half of its regular term until April 3, 2022.
Major opposition parties boycotted the June 21 elections in protest over Vucic’s grip on media and pressure against political opponents. Vucic and his allies rejected those claims.
During the debate, Shaip Kamberi, an opposition and ethnic Albanian deputy from Serbia’s south, criticised government policies as autocratic, comparing it with those of Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
“People were fleeing (Serbia) because of wars (in the 1990s), and now people are fleeing because of authoritarianism,” Kamberi said.
After the elections, Vucic’s opponents protested in Belgrade against the government’s policies, including its handling of the coronavirus crisis. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Grant McCool)
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