* Minister quits amid row over reforms
* SNS leader Vucic in running for post of PM
* Party emerged from ultranationalist radicals
By Aleksandar Vasovic and Matt Robinson
BELGRADE, Jan 25 Serbia's dominant SNS party
said on Saturday it would seek an early parliamentary election,
betting that a surge in popularity would strengthen its grip on
power and help it push through much-needed economic reforms.
Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said
he would propose early polls at a meeting of the centre-right
movement's leadership on Sunday, ending weeks of speculation
about a possible March 16 ballot.
"It's time to settle the bill," he told a party congress.
"It's up to us to take the risk and if the people so decide,
we'll leave power."
Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party, already the largest in
the ruling coalition, has been clamouring for an early election,
saying an even stronger mandate would help speed up structural
reforms essential to the country's recovery from a decade of war
and isolation in the 1990s.
Tensions within the coalition over the pace and depth of
those measures saw Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic, a non-party
member of the cabinet, resign on Saturday.
Radulovic had threatened to quit this month amid resistance
from unions and some in the government to reforms aimed at
liberalising the labour market and cutting loose dozens of
loss-making state firms.
The SNS is riding high in opinion polls, thanks largely to
the personal popularity of Vucic and a high-profile anti-graft
campaign he has been waging.
A big win for the SNS would almost certainly see Vucic
become prime minister. It may force the Socialists of Prime
Minister Ivica Dacic into opposition.
"Markets will take this quite well," said Timothy Ash, head
of emerging markets research at Standard Bank. "A government
with fresh and strong mandate will be well placed to accelerate
the pace of reforms."
Once an ultranationalist disciple of the 'Greater Serbia'
ideology that fuelled the wars of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse
in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself as a
pro-European reformer, embracing Serbia's bid to join the
The EU opened accession negotiations with Serbia on Jan. 21,
a process that should help drive change in the largest country
to emerge from the ashes of federal Yugoslavia. Serbia is
unlikely to join before 2020.
"I can see them (SNS) winning the vote, but ... even if they
garner enough to rule alone I see them forming a coalition so
they can share out responsibility," said Marko Blagojevic,
director of the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy.
"This will be the test for Vucic - is he a statesman or a
Vucic did not spell out how he would bring about an early
election if, as expected, his party backs the idea.
But, with Dacic opposing an early poll, analysts said that
either a majority of cabinet ministers would have to quit, or
the SNS could force a confidence vote in parliament and bring
down the government.
President Tomislav Nikolic, who founded the SNS with Vucic
in 2008, would have to call the election by the end of the month
if it is to coincide with a March 16 municipal ballot in the
Dacic could not immediately be reached for comment. A close
aide, who declined to be named, told Reuters: "We still believe
elections were not necessary. These are plans of our coalition
partner, but let's wait for their formal decision tomorrow."