Romania's beleaguered left-wing government collapsed in a no-confidence vote on Thursday, paving the way for the president to appoint a new prime minister in the poor, corruption-plagued EU member country.
The fall comes just weeks before a presidential election and as controversy swirls over the country's nominee for EU commissioner.
Viorica Dancila, who heads Romania's biggest party the Social Democrats (PSD), lost her parliamentary majority in August when a junior coalition partner withdrew its support, citing major disagreements.
That followed hard on the heels of shock losses for the PSD in May's European Parliament elections and the jailing of its once all-powerful leader, Liviu Dragnea, on corruption charges.
A total of 238 MPs in the 465-seat parliament voted in favour of the motion against Dancila's government, clearing the way for President Klaus Iohannis to name a new prime minister.
Iohannis said he would meet with all political parties, including the PSD, on Friday "because Romania urgently needs a new government".
"I will propose an executive with a clear mandate to assure that the country is run responsibly and effectively until the next elections," he said in a televised speech.
He said snap elections could be the best solution but may not be feasible before the current term runs out late next year.
It is unclear how he will manage to steer the divergent opposition.
Undermined by internal dissent, the opposition has so far failed to agree on an alternative candidate to Dancila.
One option is former transport minister Ludovic Orban, leader of the Liberals, which Iohannis used to head, but his backing is far from unanimous.
Since taking power in late 2016, the PSD has faced massive street protests -- including violent clashes last year -- and criticsm from Brussels over controversial judicial reforms that are seen as helping politicians to escape corruption sentences.
Before the vote, the opposition denounced what it called the Dancila government's "incompetence", "political patronage" and "corruption", saying it had turned the country into "the most vulnerable in the EU".
"This is the last day where we are addressing an illegitimate prime minister who has trampled on Romanians' expectations to move faster toward Europe," opposition lawmaker Raluca Turcan said before the vote.
Dancila, who took over the premiership last year after her predecessor had a fall-out with then PSD head Dragnea, has rejected the criticsm.
"I leave with a clear conscience of having accomplished my duty," the 55-year-old politician said after the vote.
The result of the vote was being eagerly awaited in Brussels after Dancila's candidate for EU commissioner was rejected. Newly-elected European Commission head, Ursula von der Leyen, has requested a replacement.
Dancila is also due to run in presidential elections with the first round scheduled for November 10.
Incumbent centre-right Iohannis already looks set to be re-elected for a second term, and the collapse of Dancila's government is expected to weaken her chances even further.
The new government will have the delicate task of writing the budget for 2020, complicated by an explosion of public spending in recent months as the PSD struggles to stay in power.
The International Monetary Fund has already warned that Romania risks surpassing the three percent public deficit ceiling imposed by the EU, urging Bucharest to give up on a PSD promise of doubling pensions by 2022.
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