BELGRADE, Serbia – Socialist leader Ivica Dacic won a mandate Thursday to form a new Serbian government, marking a full-scale return of the late Slobodan Milosevic's former allies to power for the first time since the autocrat's ouster in a popular revolt in 2000.
President Tomislav Nikolic formally approved Dacic as prime minister designate to lead the new coalition government that would include the Socialists, Nikolic's nationalists and a small center-right party.
Although Nikolic and his nationalists claim to have shifted from being staunchly anti-Western to pro-European Union, a new nationalist-dominated government is likely to stall Serbia's proclaimed EU membership bid and increase Russian influence in the Balkans. The nationalists are backed by the Kremlin.
"Today, Serbia is changing," Nikolic said after meeting with Dacic. "Serbian citizens voted for changes."
Serbia's Parliament still needs to formally approve the new government.
The new coalition represents another blow to Democrat leader Boris Tadic, who was ousted in the May presidential election by Nikolic. The Democrats are Serbia's biggest pro-European party.
Dacic ditched his former allies, the Democrats, after the nationalists offered to make him prime minister.
Tadic said Thursday the Democrats did not offer Dacic the premier position because his party "is not good enough" to lead the country.
Dacic had been Milosevic's spokesman during the bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s.
The Socialists and the nationalists were ousted from power together with their former leader Milosevic during street protests in October 2000. Six years later, Milosevic died in his jail cell during his war crimes trial at a U.N. tribunal.
Ironically, the return to power of Milosevic's former allies comes exactly 11 years to the day when the late strongman, who was accused of triggering the Balkan wars in the 1990s, was extradited to the war crimes tribunal by Serbia's then-ruling Democrats.
Dacic said his new government would not return the country to the 90's.
"If I wanted to do that, I would have done it in the past four years," Dacic said, referring to his period as a junior partner in Tadic's outgoing government.