Moldova dismisses pro-EU government amid corruption scandal

Anatol Golya
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Tens of thousands of Moldavans rallied in the capital Chisinau on September 6, 2015 to demand the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti and the election of a new head of state

Tens of thousands of Moldavans rallied in the capital Chisinau on September 6, 2015 to demand the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti and the election of a new head of state (AFP Photo/Str)

Chisinau (AFP) - Moldova's parliament on Thursday passed a vote of no confidence in the pro-EU government and prime minister, Valeriu Strelet, in the tiny ex-Soviet state's latest bout of political instability.

Moldova has been rocked by a political crisis over a $1-billion (910-million-euro) corruption scandal that saw a former prime minister arrested earlier this month amid popular protests.

A total of 65 out of 101 lawmakers backed the resolution to sack the government and Strelet, in office only since late July, due to the combined vote of three pro-Russia parties.

The country is torn between those who want it to join neighbouring Romania in the European Union and those who want closer relations with Moscow, the Soviet-era master.

Moldova, a country of 3.5 million people lying between Ukraine and Romania, is one of Europe's poorest countries.

Last year, the government signed a historic EU association agreement despite bitter opposition from Russia.

Russia maintains troops in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestr area bordering Ukraine and gives it financial backing.

Strelet, who leads the Liberal Democratic Party, is a 45-year-old former businessman who took office on a pledge to strengthen ties with the EU and push ahead with attempts to enter the 28-country bloc.

In his final speech in parliament, he said: "I am seriously worried about the future of the country. I see that some politicians have no desire to maintain the smallest amount of stability."

"They want chaos, that is why they supported the dismissal of the government."

One of his party's MPs, Iurie Tap, called the vote of no confidence "a political act in the interests of Russia."

But the leader of the Communist Party, Violeta Ivanov, attacked Strelet's brief stint in power as inept.

"We have the most unprofessional government, the coffers are empty, the banking system is on the brink of collapse," she said.

According to Moldovan law, the government will continue working until a new cabinet of ministers is sworn in.

If neither the pro-European parties nor the pro-Russian parties are able to form a new government within 90 days, the president must dissolve parliament and set an election date.

- Billion dollar question -

Strelet's tenure has been dominated by the graft scandal and the alleged role in it of his party's former leader Vlad Filat, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2013.

Filat was detained this month and his assets seized in a probe into the disappearance of a billion dollars from the country's banking system.

With Filat's detention, the pro-European bloc of Strelet lost its parliamentary majority, paving the way for the vote of no confidence.

Strelet also fell out with erstwhile coalition partner the Democratic Party after it backed the lifting of Filat's immunity as a lawmaker.

"In recent weeks, the prime minister Valeriu Strelet has not been working for the government but has been defending his party leader Vlad Filat," complained the Democratic Party leader, Marian Lupu.

Pro-European parties secured a narrow win in December 2014 parliamentary polls, but pro-Russian parties were just behind with 40 percent of the vote.

Previously, in 2010, a coalition of four pro-European liberal parties won a slim majority in parliamentary elections, ending eight years of Communist rule.

Moldova has been led by pro-European prime ministers since 2009, but political turmoil has seen three different prime ministers leading the government this year alone.

Moldova's previous prime minister, Chiril Gaburici, quit in June over allegations he faked his high school diploma.

Moldova's president, Nicolae Timofti, is a little-known judge, who was chosen by parliament in 2012. Previously Moldova was without a president for almost three years.

Around 78 percent of Moldova's population is ethnic Romanian, while Ukrainians and Russians account for around 14 percent.