Pro-EU communists sweep Moldova vote
Afterward, around 10,000 demonstrators chanting slogans like "Down With Communism!" and "Freedom!" gathered in central Chisinau to protest the preliminary elections results.
Chisinau -- Communists favouring close ties with the West have swept legislative elections in Moldova, officials said Monday, possibly winning enough seats to choose the next president in the ex-Soviet republic.
Later Monday, around 10,000 demonstrators chanting slogans like "Down With Communism!" and "Freedom!" gathered in central Chisinau to protest the preliminary elections results, an AFP journalist witnessed.
With 98 percent of the ballots from Sunday's election counted, tallies showed the Communist Party of Moldova, led by President Vladimir Voronin, had won 49.96 percent of the vote, the country's election commission said.
This was roughly in line with forecasts prior to the ballot, though residents of Moldova's pro-Russian breakaway region of Transdniestr did not take part in the vote.
If confirmed by final results, the score would give the communists at least 60 of the 101 seats in the national legislature and possibly the 61 seats the party would require to select a new president.
"The count of the votes is continuing but it cannot significantly influence the final results," said Moldova's elections commission chief, Eugen Stirbu.
"The communist party may receive 61 of the 101 seats in parliament, and three opposition parties of the liberal orientation would get a combined 40 seats."
Final results were expected to be announced Wednesday.
Voronin, Europe's only communist president, is scheduled to step down on April 7 after two consecutive terms. He is barred by the constitution from running for a third term.
His successor was to be elected by parliament sometime between April 8 and June 8, with Vonorin likely to stay on in a caretaker capacity until his replacement is chosen.
The communists were followed in a distant second place by the Liberal Party with 12.78 percent of the vote and the Liberal Democrats with 12.26 percent, election officials said.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the Moldova vote met "many" international democratic standards but also said it had shortcomings and acknowledged that "further improvements are required."
Marianne Mikko, the head of a delegation from the European parliament, also said "further efforts must be made" on elections in Moldova.
The Liberal Democrats contested the preliminary results and warned they might call for public demonstrations against the vote.
"Anyone drinking champagne has started too early," said Vlad Filat, chairman of the Liberal Democrats party.
"Those who deem themselves the winners, will very soon become losers."
The protestors in Chisinau said they had gathered spontaneously to condemn what they called falsified election results, but they were joined by leaders of key opposition parties.
It was one of the largest demonstrations in the ex-Soviet republic in recent years.
The communists, who have pledged to build a "European Moldova" while maintaining friendly ties with Moscow, came to power in 2001 and were reelected in 2005.
The party was once staunchly pro-Russian but changed course dramatically in 2005 and today seeks closer ties with the European Union as well as good ties with Russia, on which it depends for gas and other supplies.
Despite strong legislative support, Voronin was unable in two terms as president to resolve the problem of Transdniestr -- a slice of land in the east that broke away from the rest of Moldova in the early 1990s.