By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RABAT (Reuters) - The junior party in Morocco's governing coalition confirmed on Wednesday that it had quit over planned cuts in food and energy subsidies, raising the prospect of political instability and possibly an early election in the North African nation.
Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's government had no immediate comment on the move by the Istiqlal party, which had said on Tuesday it would resign in protest over the subsidy cuts and other issues it says will hurt the poor.
Istiqlal has been in coalition with the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) that won 2011 legislative elections held after the adoption of the new constitution proposed by King Mohamed to stifle the Arab Spring protests.
It remained unclear whether the king, who wields ultimate power, would accept the party' resignation, though political analysts have said Istiqlal's move does not seem spontaneous and may have at least partial support from the palace.
If the king accepts the resignations, Benkirane must seek a new coalition partner or call an early election. Analysts say the first option is more likely.
Istiqlal spokesman Adil Benhamza said five of his party's six government ministers, including those of finance and energy, had submitted their resignations, adding that the minister of education had yet to follow suit.
"(Education Minister) Mohamed El Ouafa has 24 hours to step down too or he will be excluded from the party," Benhamza said.
Energy Minister Fouad Douiri, interviewed by Reuters, declined to confirm he had resigned. "I can't talk about it," he said.
The government wants to avoid a drop in living standards that could reignite street protests, but it also needs to rein in costly subsidies as it struggles with economic fallout from upheaval across the Arab world and from the euro zone debt crisis, which has hit its main source of trade and investment.
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by Gareth Jones)