Communists take early lead in Moldova vote

Moldova’s pro-Russian communists took an early lead Thursday in key elections which may determine if Europe’s poorest country — a former Soviet republic — ditches Moscow in favour of the West.

The ruling party garnered 47.8 percent of the vote in early results from 52 percent of voting centres, the national electoral commission announced.

Three pro-western liberal parties — the Liberal Democrat Party, the Liberal Party and Our Moldova Alliance tallied a total of 34.7 percent, the central electoral commission said.

Former communist leader Marian Lupu’s Democratic Party had registered 13.1 percent of the vote so far.

As more votes were counted however, the Communist Party’s lead dwindled, having started with a score of 58 percent of the vote on the basis of 4.0 percent of voting centres counted.

An exit poll for Wednesday’s election carried out by the independent Institute for Public Policy suggested the liberal opposition would garner more votes than the communists.

If the exit poll proves accurate, it would mean that no single party enjoys an absolute majority and a coalition of parties would be required to elect the next president as no one party would hold the required 61 seats.

It was the second time in four months that voters in the former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine elected a parliament.

The previous poll in April was denounced by the opposition as rigged and led to mass street protests and rioting.

Liberal opponents seeking closer ties with the European Union and new EU member Romania have mounted a tough campaign against the party of Communist leader Vladimir Voronin, who has been president since 2001.

Whatever the result, Voronin must step down as he has served his maximum two terms.

“I hope that after this election we will leave the crisis and we can work to fight against the economic crisis. We cannot have elections all the time,” said Voronin after casting his ballot earlier Wednesday.

Moldova’s election commission said turnout stood at 58.8 percent, a high figure in a country where hundreds of thousands work overseas.

At least one violent incident was reported when a Communist Party member shot and wounded an opposition activist in the leg during a dispute at a polling station, the opposition and an interior ministry spokesman said.

Earlier Wednesday, Voronin had issued a stern warning against any repeat of April’s post-election violence, which erupted as opposition activists protested what they said had been fraud.

Although officially the Communists had won about 50 percent of the vote, Voronin had to call new elections in June after parliament failed to elect his candidate Zinaida Greceanii as president due to an opposition boycott.

Russia is anxiously watching the new elections, keen that another former Soviet state does not repeat the Georgian and Ukrainian moves of choosing a pro-Western government that limits Moscow’s influence.

In a fresh controversy underlining the lingering tensions, an election monitoring group pulled all its 140 observers out of Moldova after a dozen Georgian monitors were refused entry and 87 not accredited.

The US-backed European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) is made up of non-governmental organisations from eastern European and ex-Soviet countries.

Voronin has said he would be willing to form a coalition with the opposition, after having previously accusing them of plotting a coup.

But the three main liberal opposition parties have so far ruled out any dialogue with the Communists.


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