By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's powerful deputy prime minister said on Wednesday his party was ready in the event of an early parliamentary election, fuelling speculation he plans to bring down the government within days.
The center-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of Aleksandar Vucic, the biggest party in Serbia's ruling coalition, is expected to decide by the end of the week whether to seek a snap election and cash in on high opinion poll ratings to try for a stronger mandate after just 17 months in power.
Senior SNS officials say a strong election win would help accelerate the pace of much-needed economic reform, as the largest market to emerge from the former Yugoslavia seeks to capitalize on membership talks with the European Union that began on Tuesday.
In an editorial published in the party's magazine, Vucic said "many are calling for" an early election that would coincide with a municipal ballot in the capital, Belgrade, on March 16.
"The Serbian Progressive Party is ready for (elections), to test the power, legitimacy and trust that each party enjoys with the people of Serbia," he wrote.
Opinion polls suggest the SNS has around 40 percent support thanks largely to the popularity of Vucic, the face of a high-profile graft fight that has struck a chord with Serbs weary of years of endemic corruption and deep-rooted organized crime.
A strong SNS win could push the co-ruling Socialists of Prime Minister Ivica Dacic into opposition.
Asked about Vucic's remarks, a Socialist Party official said: "We must work on reforms; elections are not necessary, but we're not afraid of them."
The SNS emerged in 2008 from the Serbian Radical Party, an ultranationalist party committed to the 'Greater Serbia' ideology that fuelled the wars of Yugoslavia's bloody collapse in the 1990s.
Both the SNS and the Socialists of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic have since embraced a pro-EU path. Serbia says it hopes to join the 28-member bloc by 2020.
The governor of Serbia's central bank said the easing of U.S. monetary stimulus had caused the dinar to weaken, denying speculation over an early election was to blame, after the currency hit 16-month lows this month.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Janet Lawrence)