By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's economy minister resigned on Saturday in a row over the pace of much-needed structural reforms, fuelling expectations of a snap parliamentary election in March.
The news broke as the ruling coalition's largest party, the centre-right Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), met to decide whether or not to force an early election and cash in on the party's high poll numbers.
An official in the Economy Ministry said the minister, Sasa Radulovic, had resigned. The official, who declined to be named, did not elaborate.
Radulovic, an SNS appointee but not a member of any party, had threatened to quit this month amid resistance from unions and some in the government to reforms aimed at liberalizing the labor market and cutting loose dozens of loss-making state firms.
After barely 17 months in power, SNS officials are clamoring for an early election on March 16, saying a stronger mandate for the party would help accelerate the pace of economic reforms.
The party is riding high in opinion polls, thanks largely to the personal popularity of its leader, deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, and a high-profile anti-graft campaign he is waging.
A big win for the SNS would see Vucic become prime minister.
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 European Union.
The EU opened accession negotiations with Serbia on January 21, but the country is unlikely to join before 2020.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Andrew Heavens)