CHISINAU, Moldova — Moldova's pro-European government collapsed Tuesday after it was defeated in a confidence vote caused by rivalries within the ruling coalition, likely leading to new elections.
The vote raises questions about whether the former Soviet republic will move away from the European Union – which the government has been working toward joining for the past two years – and seek closer relations with Moscow.
Some 54 lawmakers voted to oust the government of reformist Prime Minister Vlad Filat, after his main partner in the Alliance for European Integration broke away over a battle to control the justice system.
Filat, 43, who became prime minister in January 2011, has moved this impoverished nation of 4.1 million closer to Europe. Moldova is one of Europe's poorest nations, with an average monthly salary of some $230. Some 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, mainly in EU countries and Russia.
Hundreds gathered outside the Parliament before the vote, cheering Filat's government and booing lawmakers. They held posters, one reading: "We want European integration."
Part of Romania until 1940 when it was annexed to the Soviet Union, the country has been marked by political uncertainty in recent years. Tens of thousands protested elections they say were rigged by the Communists in 2009. Four people died, hundreds were injured and demonstrators ransacked the Parliament and the president's office. The pro-European alliance which then came to power was unable to muster enough votes in Parliament for a president for almost two years.
The mainly agricultural country exports wine and candy but is just as well-known for people-trafficking and cigarette-smuggling, especially in the breakaway republic of Trans-Dniester which is strongly pro-Russian but is not recognized internationally.
The current political crisis was sparked after general prosecutor Valeriu Zubco was accused of fatally shooting a man during a hunting party in December. Zubco resigned and the two main political parties have been unable to agree who should replace him.
The opposition Communist Party which is opposed to European-style reforms, brought the confidence motion, saying Moldovans were dissatisfied with the economy and corruption. Filat's government has three days to step down and can try to form a new coalition before an election has to be called. It would be the fourth in as many years.
It is uncertain whether Filat will be able to form a new coalition after relations deteriorated between him and Marian Lupu, who heads the Democratic Party, over which party nominates the post of general prosecutor. Lupu's party voted against the government.