Moldova’s pro-EU former prime minister Maia Sandu took the oath of office on Thursday as the ex-Soviet country’s first ever woman president.
Sandu, 48, defeated the Russia-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in a surprise victory in November in the country wedged between Romania and Ukraine.
The centre-right politician who previously worked for the World Bank was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by members of parliament and the Constitutional Court — but Dodon and MPs of his party stayed away.
“We will clean the country, thieves will be in jail, not among the country’s leadership,” the new Moldovan president said, reiterating her campaign promises.
Thousands of Sandu’s supporters greeted her outside the Palace of the Republic in the capital Chisinau after the ceremony, chanting “Maia Sandu and the people!” and “The people love you!”
Sandu then walked together with members of her Action and Solidarity Party to the Presidential Palace, for a ceremony in which Dodon officially transferred power to her.
He also offered Sandu a bouquet of flowers.
In the weeks leading up to Sandu’s inauguration her supporters rallied against legislation that would transfer control of the country’s intelligence agency from the presidency to parliament.
The move was seen as an effort by pro-Dodon lawmakers to limit the powers of the new president and was later blocked by the Consitutional Court.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Ion Chicu announced his resignation, hours before parliament was due to consider a vote of no confidence in his government.
Dodon said the resignation was not linked to the protests or the upcoming vote, but rather paved the way for early parliamentary elections.
The resignation also led to the automatic dissolution of Moldova’s government.
In her inauguration speech Thursday, Sandu said that snap legislative elections are the “only way to cleanse parliament and restore justice in our country”.
The country of 3.5 million people has been split between supporters of closer ties with Russia and those in favour of European integration, especially through cultural links with neighbouring EU member Romania.
During his four years in power, Dodon promoted stronger relations with Moscow and had the backing of Russia, which is eager to preserve its influence in the country and has troops deployed in the breakaway region of Transnistria.