Malta government falls after PM Gonzi loses majority

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Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi took power just before Malta joined the EU in 2004

Malta faces new elections after its government collapsed on Monday over negotiations for next year's budget.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi lost his one-vote majority after a dissenting MP reportedly voted against the budget bill in protest over transport reforms.

Parliament will be dissolved on 7 January and new elections are set to be held in early March, Mr Gonzi told journalists.

Mr Gonzi, a lawyer by profession, had been in power since 2004.

His 2013 budget proposal was defeated after Franco Debono, a member of the ruling Nationalist Party, withdrew his support for the bill.

The move was in protest over the government's decision to hand the management of Malta's bus service to a German operator, among other issues.

The Nationalist Party has governed Malta since 1987, apart from 1996-1998 when Labour was in power.

Mr Gonzi took office in March 2004, just before the small Mediterranean state entered the EU.

Four years later, his party won re-election by 0.5% of the votes cast, the slimmest margin in Malta's four-decade history.

The nation of 419,000 people gained independence from Britain in 1964.

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