Moldova seeks end to deadlock with new election

28th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The results will determine who succeeds outgoing President Vladimir Voronin and how Moldova, a small nation wedged between Ukraine and Romania, steers its foreign policy between the demands of the European Union and Moscow.

Chisinau -- Moldova holds a fresh parliamentary election Wednesday, after the previous vote in April led to violent anti-Communist riots and a bitter political standoff in the impoverished former Soviet republic.

The results will determine who succeeds outgoing President Vladimir Voronin and how Moldova, a small nation wedged between Ukraine and Romania, steers its foreign policy between the demands of the European Union and Moscow.

Voronin reluctantly called new elections in June after lawmakers failed to elect a new president, due to a boycott by liberal opposition parties, which accused his ruling Communist Party of stealing the April election.

Now around 2.5 million voters are set to choose a new parliament, which is then supposed to select a successor to Voronin, who must step down after serving the maximum two four-year terms permitted by the constitution.

Eight parties are on the ballot for Wednesday's election. Besides the ruling Communist Party, four opposition parties are tipped to have a chance of passing the five percent barrier needed to win seats.

Political analysts and opinion polls predict the Communist Party will take first place, but will not win the 60 percent of seats needed for the party to fully control the selection of the next president.

In the abortive April 5 election, the Communist Party won about 50 percent of the vote but was accused of fraud, prompting huge street protests and the sacking of the parliament building in Chisinau by young rioters.

While new riots seem unlikely, there is a strong likelihood that Moldova's impasse will continue given that the population is split between pro-opposition urban youth and older rural voters loyal to the Communists, analysts say.

"This gulf exists and will exist for a long time. Everything depends on the efforts of the political elite to reduce it," said Igor Botsan, head of the Association for Participatory Democracy, a Moldovan think tank.

Fuelling the divide is Moldova's poverty, which leads numerous working-age adults to seek employment abroad, leaving behind the young and the elderly.

Moldova has the dubious distinction of being Europe's poorest country: last year the United Nations Development Programme ranked Moldova dead last among European countries in terms of its human development index.

Many believe that a coalition is the solution to the deadlock, and last week Voronin announced that the Communist Party was open to a coalition with its opponents, after previously accusing them of plotting a coup.

His move came after the Communists were weakened by the defection of former parliamentary speaker Marian Lupu, seen as a reformer within the party.

"The Communist Party understands that its popularity is falling and that the only way out of the crisis is a coalition. Eventually all the parties will come to this conclusion," said Botsan.

However the three main liberal opposition parties have so far ruled out all dialogue with the Communists or with Lupu, who is running in Wednesday's election as head of the small Democratic Party.

Some solution to the political deadlock seems necessary for the country to deal with the impact of the global economic slowdown.

"Moldova's financial abilities -- to pay salaries, benefits, pensions, its foreign debt -- will be certain only if parliament functions, if a president is elected and if a government is formed a maximum of one month from now," Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii told reporters last week.

The diplomatic stakes are also high: while all major parties favour bringing Moldova into the EU, the Communists have pursued an increasingly pro-Russian line in recent months.

Voronin's government has accused neighbouring Romania, an EU member country which shares a common language and deep historical ties with Moldova, of fomenting the April riots.

Romania denies the charges, but it has raised questions about the Moldovan government's handling of the disputed election.

The chill between Bucharest and Chisinau was compounded earlier this month when Romanian President Traian Basescu said he supported the opposition in Moldova's upcoming election.

Around 200 observers from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe will monitor the vote, and last week the head of the OSCE mission, Petros Efthymiou, urged greater transparency in the election.

"If the lack of trust and confidence evident among the political forces and public in Moldova is to be overcome, continued improvements of the electoral process are absolutely vital," Efthymiou said.


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