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Moldova presidential vote fails

Chisinau — Moldova’s ruling Communists failed on Wednesday to win parliament’s approval for their presidential candidate, forcing a new, last-ditch vote to be scheduled for May 28.

The vote on a new president to replace Vladimir Voronin comes after parliamentary elections last month descended into rioting, prompting concern in the European Union and Moscow, the country’s Soviet-era master.

The Communists’ candidate, Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii, would have become the first woman president in the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States region.

But in a knife-edge vote she won the support of just 60 deputies, one short of the necessary 61 needed to win. Voronin’s Communists have 60 seats in the 101-seat parliament.

After the vote, Voronin insisted the Communist Party would again put forward Greceanii as its candidate. He denied journalists’ claims of dirty tricks by the Communist Party to try to get opposition deputies to break ranks.

"We support the candidacy of Zinaida Greceanii at the second presidential election," Voronin told journalists.

"It’s the opposition that practices corruption," he added.

Parties must now formally choose their candidates for the May 28 vote.

That vote could go to a second round if more than two candidates compete. But if no candidate comes out victorious, parliament must be dissolved and fresh elections held.

On Wednesday opposition deputies walked out of the chamber ahead of the vote, arguing that the authorities had rigged legislative elections last month to form the current parliament and that new elections should be held.

"We will achieve the holding of early parliamentary elections, which contrary to previous votes should be democratic, without pressure, without blackmail and with equal conditions between the parties," said the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Vlad Filat.

Wednesday’s session could not be held in the normal parliament building as damage inflicted in last month’s rioting has yet to be fully repaired. The session instead took place in a ceremonial palace nearby.

Top officials including Voronin had voiced hope that some opposition candidates would switch sides and support Greceanii.

"She is honest, clean and attractive," Voronin said of his preferred candidate on Tuesday.

Greceanii was put forward as the Communists’ main candidate along with a token second runner whose participation was needed to allow the vote to go ahead.

Last month’s unrest in this impoverished east European country prompted some critics in Europe to warn of growing authoritarianism in Moldova.

Moldovan authorities have responded sharply to criticism from EU member Romania, with which the country has deep historical and cultural ties, accusing Romania of trying to swallow up the country.

Greceanii’s election would have meant a shuffling of seats among a narrow ruling group.

Earlier this month Voronin was elected speaker of parliament. On Tuesday he said he hoped the previous speaker, Marian Lupu, would replace Greceanii if she became president.

Anatoly Golia/AFP/Expatica