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CHISINAU, April 22 - Moldova's Constitutional Court barred acting prime minister Vlad Filat from seeking a permanent position as head of government on Monday, days ahead of a vote that would have likely reinstated him in the job and put an end to a political crisis.
Filat's government resigned on March 8 after losing a confidence vote following months of feuding among leaders of a pro-European coalition which has run the impoverished former Soviet republic since 2009.
Filat, a 43-year-old businessman who heads the Liberal Democratic party, has since served in an interim capacity and this month President Nicolae Timofti asked him to try to form a new government.
By the end of last week, he appeared to have secured the necessary 51 votes in the 101-seat parliament to give him a majority to govern. But the court ruling late on Monday found his nomination to be illegal.
"The Constitutional Court has ruled that two decrees issued by Moldovan President (Timofti) are unconstitutional," Viktor Popa, one of the court judges, told Reuters.
Popa said the court believed that a prime minister who had lost a confidence vote could never again hold that position.
According to Moldova's constitution, laws and other legal acts "become null and void from the moment that the Constitutional Court passes the appropriate judgment to that effect".
Filat, who called an emergency government meeting on Monday night, was not immediately available for comment.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine and EU member Romania, is one of Europe's poorest nations with an average monthly wage of about $230 and an economy reliant on agricultural exports and remittances from hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers.
The three-party coalition known as the Alliance for European Integration, which included Filat's party, has worked to bring the country of 3.6 million closer to mainstream Europe.
But the fall of the alliance has threatened to derail its course towards signing free trade agreements with the European Union at the end of the year.
If parliament fails to approve a new prime minister in three attempts, it will have to call a snap election which could hand power to communists who are likely to scrap plans for closer ties with the West.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; +380 44 244 9150; email@example.com; editing by Mike Collett-White