Moldova's outgoing president faces toughest test yet

8th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Appointed interior minister for Moldova in 1989 before the collapse of Moscow's rule, Voronin is remembered for refusing to order police to fire on anti-Communist protestors in the early 1990s.

Chisinau -- Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin, facing mass protests after his party's election victory Sunday, is an ex-Soviet official who remade the Communists into a Europe-leaning party in recent years.

The 67-year-old leader, born in Moldova's Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniestr, has a shock of white hair and a weathered, steely look earned in near two decades of political maneuvering in the Soviet Union.

Appointed interior minister for Moldova in 1989 before the collapse of Moscow's rule, Voronin is remembered for refusing to order police to fire on anti-Communist protestors in the early 1990s.

But police clashed with thousands of young protestors in the capital Chisinau Tuesday as Voronin's Communists party celebrated an unprecedented third consecutive victory at the polls in the last eight years.

The Moldovan president is constitutionally obliged to quit his office by June after serving the maximum of two consecutive terms.

But the seasoned politician has made clear his intention to retain influence after he leaves office, perhaps stepping in as prime minister or speaker of the parliament.

The Communists, who came to power in 2001, staked their claims in the last elections on building a "European" Moldova while maintaining friendly ties with Moscow.

Voronin, a former Soviet general, was once staunchly pro-Russian, but turned increasingly toward the West after his party's second election sweep in 2005.

"His supporters say that he is a paragon of courage and civil consciousness, but the protestors say that he has usurped power in the country," local analyst Igor Munteanu told AFP by telephone.

"That is rather harsh but it does agree with reality. The power in the recent years has been structured along the lines of power in Russia," said Munteanu, who heads Moldova's Institute for Development and Social Initiatives.

Voronin's critics say his allies have near total control over the media, top banks and profitable wine and tobacco industries in Europe's poorest country.

His Communist Party of Moldova (PCRM) won around 50 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, which the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said met "many" international standards.

The communists were followed in a distant second place by the Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats and Our Moldova parties, who won around 35 percent of the votes between them.

Voronin showed late Tuesday he was prepared to talk tough in the crisis, dismissing the thousands who had taken to the streets as a "handful of fascists".

"We will not allow provocations that profane the symbols of the state," he said after demonstrators raided the country's parliament and presidency building.

"We will show that in Moldova there is a power which will act strongly to protect the country's statehood from a handful of fascists drunk on anger trying to cause a coup d'etat."

AFP/Expatica

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