Slovakia's parliament has delivered a vote of no confidence to its government in a vote that was closely linked to the expansion of the eurozone's bailout fund to help heavily indebted European states.
Prime Minister Iveta Radicova had earlier promised to step down if the vote failed, and approval of the fund expansion is expected to pass in a revote.
The "no" vote was widely expected after a junior party in the ruling coalition, the Freedom and Solidarity Party, said it would abstain from voting.
All of the 16 other eurozone countries have already ratified the plan to give more powers to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which was designed to shore up Europe's defenses against the debt crisis.
A deal reached by EU leaders in July would expand the powers of the 440 billion-euro ($598 billion) bailout fund but needs the approval of all 17 eurozone members. The vote comes as the debt-laden Greek government teeters on the edge of financial default.
Only 50 of 150 Slovak legislators approved the EFSF reform. Sixty abstained and nine opposed it. Support from 76 representatives was required.
Before the vote and amid intense negotiations that appear to have torn apart Slovakia's governing coalition, Prime Minister Radicova linked the vote to a confidence vote on her government.
"The offer [to Freedom and Solidarity Party] was of a free 'green' card for decisions on so-called permanent EFSF. This offer was refused. That's why I announced to our coalition partners that today's parliament vote about our future in Europe will be linked together with a vote of confidence in this government," she said.
Leaders of the four-party governing coalition met in a marathon session in Bratislava today in a last-minute attempt to broker a deal after they failed on October 10 to reach agreement.
In the end, Freedom and Solidarity Party Chairman Richard Sulik -- who described the expanded bailout fund as "a road to hell" -- led his members in abstaining.
During debate, Sulik said: "We did not create these problems. Therefore there is no reason to pay for them."
The coalition government now must rely on the opposition to secure Slovakia's approval.
The main opposition party, former Prime Minister Robert Fico's Smer-Social Democracy Party, supports the fund expansion in principle. But Fico has said his party would only vote to expand the fund in exchange for early elections.
Fico has said his party would vote "yes" if the government stepped down.
All three governing parties that favor the measure said before the vote that they would seek opposition support to push the package through, if necessary, even if it leads to the collapse of their government.
Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the eurozone.
It was only after much deliberation and negotiation that Slovak lawmakers in July 2010 approved the original emergency loan facility.
Under that original plan, Bratislava gave guarantees of 4.5 billion euros as its contribution to the 750 billion-euro EU rescue fund.
Expanding the fund would mean that Slovakia would have to contribute 7.7 billion euros.
Currency traders around the world were eagerly watching today's vote in Bratislava and were expecting the value of the euro to fall if lawmakers do not approve of expanding the fund.
compiled from agency reports