Rebel Moldova region chief 'ousted' after 20 years

14th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The man who led Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr for the last two decades and kept it in a Soviet time warp failed to make the second round of presidential elections, preliminary results showed Wednesday.

The results of the weekend's first round spell the end of the presidency of Igor Smirnov, who had ruled Transdniestr since it split from Moldova in a civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Smirnov won only 24.82 percent in the elections, well behind the first placed candidate Yevgeny Shevchuk with 38.53 percent and Anatoly Kaminsky in second with 26.48, the official news agency Olviya said.

Smirnov's position was fatally weakened after the Kremlin made it clear earlier this year that he no longer enjoyed its support, crucial in a region where Russian peacekeepers are still deployed and reliant on economic support.

Yet the result of opposition candidate Shevchuk was a surprise, given that it was Kaminsky who had enjoyed Russian backing in the election.

Smirnov, a political survivor who was seeking a sixth term, on Monday already refused to recognise the results, saying there were numerous violations.

Sporting a grey and black goatee beard and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Lenin, former trade unionist Smirnov was first elected president of the internationally unrecognised region in 1991.

Olviya said the results could still be ruled invalid by the election commission later in the week due to the complaints about violations. There are also questions why the results took so long to be published.

Shevchuk insisted that the results should stand as they are.

"I am convinced that the other candidates are adequate people and they will act in line with the law, acknowledging their responsibility," he said.

Shevchuk added that if the results were declared invalid he would act "exclusively within the framework of the law, by trying to contest the decision in court."

The Russian-speaking region with a population of over 555,000 declared independence from Romanian-speaking Moldova in 1990 after a brief civil war. But its independence has not been recognised internationally, not even by Russia.

The elections came after the parties in the conflict met in Vilnius last month to hold the first official talks since 2006 on resolving the conflict.

Lithuania, which chairs the OSCE and hosted the talks, described the meeting as a "stepping stone" but it was unclear if any substantial progress was made.

Transdniestr, a sliver of land wedged between the Dniestr river and the border with Ukraine, has become a notorious hub for organised crime, its people living in poverty but with its state symbols and insignia barely changed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

It remains to be seen whether Smirnov will call supporters out on the streets if the result stands.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper said that Transdniestr could be heading for a similar situation to Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia which was also pushed into crisis by disputed election results.

Opposition challenger Alla Dzhioyeva led street protests for 10 days after the supreme court cancelled her surprise leadership election win over a candidate backed by South Ossetia's patron Moscow.

A deal was finally struck and repeat elections called for March.

© 2011 AFP

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