By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's president on Thursday asked outgoing Prime Minister Ludovic Orban to form a new government around the premier's centrist Liberal party, moving a step closer to an early parliamentary election which Orban is widely expected to win.
The move by Klaus Iohannis is part of a plan agreed with his centrist ally Orban to force elections six months early, in order to take advantage of the Liberal's (PNL) rising popularity and cement their grip on power for the next four years.
On Wednesday, lawmakers toppled Orban's three-month-old Liberal minority government in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence spearheaded by the opposition Social Democrats (PSD), the country's largest grouping.
Iohannis has made clear his choice would only be Orban, to be sure he gets rejected by the legislators and lead to the dissolution of parliament.
"As I have repeatedly said, a snap poll is my first option, it is the correct choice. I decided to ask Ludovic Orban to form a new cabinet," Klaus Iohannis told reporters after holding consultations with parliamentary political groupings.
Parliament is considered dissolved and a snap election is held if legislators reject two successive prime minister proposals within 60 days. Pundits have said, however, the likely outcome is unclear given fragmented political groupings.
Orban's PNL has doubled its approval ratings to about 47% since a 2016 general election, while PSD's have halved to about 20% over the same period - chiefly due to its staunch attempts to weaken the judiciary.
Analysts say the sooner Romania has a new government in command of a comfortable majority in parliament, the better will be its emerging economy, especially when considering important fiscal adjustments required this year.
A confidence vote could take place as early as next week.
(Editing by Jon Boyle and ...)