Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Wednesday he was resigning 10 months before the end of his mandate, clearing the way for joint parliamentary and presidential elections in May when he will seek a new five-year term.
Analysts say Tadic's Democratic Party is banking on the president's personal popularity to boost the party's vote in the parliamentary election already set for May 6.
The Democratic Party, the main party in Serbia's ruling coalition, is trailing in opinion polls behind the opposition populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNP), whose leader Tomislav Nikolic is also expected to challenge Tadic for the presidency.
Tadic told reporters he would formally submit his resignation on Thursday to the speaker of the Serbian parliament, who will then call the election.
In line with the constitution I have decided to shorten my mandate ... to allow the holding of elections on all levels on May 6, he said. I will run in these elections and I expect them to be tough.
Serbia's outgoing government won a welcome boost in March when the former Yugoslav republic became an official candidate for membership of the European Union, after the arrest and extradition last year of Bosnian Serb genocide suspect Ratko Mladic.
But the government is struggling to maintain economic growth and rein in rising unemployment as the entire western Balkans suffers from the ripple effect of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis.
Future progress towards EU accession, which could take a decade, will depend on improved relations between Serbia and its former Kosovo province, which declared independence in 2008. Serbia rejects the secession, but is under pressure to normalise ties.
The people will have the opportunity to decide which path Serbia will take, Tadic said of the upcoming elections. I am sure Serbia will proceed towards the European Union, but we will never recognise Kosovo.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Stephen Nisbet)