Moldovan lawmakers rejected President Maia Sandu's choice of a new government on February 11, paving the way for an early election that pro-Western Sandu has welcomed as an opportunity to consolidate her power against the Moscow-leaning Socialist party.
A former World Bank economist, Sandu defeated Socialist Igor Dodon in a presidential election in November 2020 on a pledge to fight entrenched corruption and improve relations with the European Union.
But she has accused parliament, which is still dominated by Dodon's Socialists and their allies, of attempting to sabotage her presidency and sees snap polls as a way of cementing her hold on power.
Sandu last month nominated Natalia Gavrilita, 43, as prime minister. Gavrilita was finance minister during Sandu's short-lived tenure as prime minister in 2019.
Gavrilita on February 11 failed to garner a single vote in parliament.
Under Moldovan law, Sandu is allowed to nominate a candidate to be prime minister, who has to be confirmed by parliament. If parliament rejects her choice twice in the space of 45 days, Sandu can dissolve parliament and set a date for a new election.
The November presidential election was seen as a referendum on two divergent visions for the future of the Eastern European country of 3.5 million people that is sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania.
Since the November election, Sandu has called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova's Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, prompting the Kremlin to warn it could lead to "serious destabilization.”
Moldova, with a population of about 3.5 million, is one of Europe’s poorest countries and is sharply divided between those who support closer ties with Russia and those who advocate links with the European Union and, especially, neighboring EU member Romania.
Most of Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, and a majority of its population is ethnic Romanian.