CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova’s ruling Communists gained enough votes on Sunday to hold on to power in parliament, exit polls showed, but lacked the number of seats to install a new president, raising the spectre of another election.
Parliament’s first step is to elect a new president, and if the Communists do not garner support among the opposition and approve a candidate within three votes, then, under the constitution, a new parliamentary election must be called.
President Vladimir Voronin, the only Communist president in Europe and the former Soviet Union, has to step down as he cannot stand for a third consecutive term.
But with 45 percent of the vote and 55 seats in parliament, according to the latest estimate by the Moldovan Institute for Public Policies, Voronin’s Communists would need another six parliamentarians to vote in their own candidate.
Three opposition parties that passed the 6 percent threshold to enter parliament said they would not enter a coalition with the Communists.
The opposition broadly advocates more integration with the European Union, including closer ties with EU member neighbour Romania, with which Moldova shares linguistic heritage, and NATO membership — an ambition that is likely to infuriate Russia.
Voronin promotes integration with Europe but has cooled to the idea of closer ties with Romania.
“We have repeatedly said that this is a criminal regime and we will not go into a coalition,” Vlad Filat, leader of the Liberal Democratic party, said speaking on PRO-TV channel.
Voronin said the free-market orientated policies of the opposition parties were incompatible with Communist policies, but hoped for a one-off grouping to pass a candidate.
“I expect an ad hoc coalition to vote for the president,” he told the same television station.
The Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party are likely to get some 14 percent of votes each and Our Moldova 10 percent, according to the exit poll by the Institute of Public Politics, a local umbrella group of thinktanks.
Voronin, in office since 2001, has made it plain he wants to remain close to power by taking another senior post, like Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president turned prime minister.
Voronin has said he wants to become a “Moldovan Deng Xiaoping” — the veteran Chinese leader of the 1990s and that the party will choose what job he could take on. Analysts say he could be speaker of parliament or head of its largest faction.
Ex-Soviet Moldova, wedged between Ukraine and Romania, is Europe’s poorest country and has been beset by a rebellion in its Transdniestrian region.
The three opposition parties likely to be represented in the next parliament have the support of young and urban people.
“I voted for complete and total change in Moldova. I think the Republic of Moldova deserves much better than it has had,” said Grigore Rotanu, a construction worker in his 30s.
Voronin has overseen stability and economic growth since 2001 but has been unable to solve the Transdniestrian issue, one of several “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union. The region, like in previous elections, boycotted the vote.
With little mineral resources, Moldova’s economy depends on agriculture, including wine production, and remittances from the hundreds of thousands who left the country to work in EU states.