Moldova votes in crunch election to end crisis

The polls aim to end an extended power vacuum in Europe`s poorest nation.

Chisinau: Moldova voted on Sunday in a Parliamentary Election that aims to end an extended power vacuum in Europe`s poorest nation as it seeks to establish EU membership and sustainable growth.

Moldova has been without a full-time president for a year as the liberal coalition that has ruled the ex-Soviet state since July 2009 elections struggles to put together the necessary Parliament majority to elect a new head of state.

In a sometimes farcical political deadlock, the liberals sought in a September referendum to alter the constitution to have the president elected through direct suffrage, but the turnout failed to meet the minimum required.

Turnout in Sunday`s vote -- which is being contested by 20 parties and 19 independent candidates -- needs to break the one-third barrier to be declared valid, with the initial results not expected until Monday morning.

The ruling coalition, which succeeded pro-Moscow Communists in power and is pushing for closer ties with Europe, hopes the new polls will give it the votes in Parliament to elect its choice of president.

But raising the prospect of yet more turmoil in a country where Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated at just USD 1,590 by the World Bank, analysts warn the new parliament may look just the same as the old.

This would enable the Communist Party to continue blocking the liberal coalition`s choice for president and angling for closer relations with Russia even if it loses the elections.

Such a crisis is the last thing Moldova needs after a fragile economic recovery was torpedoed by the financial crisis and 2009 saw unprecedented street unrest in Chisinau.

After April 2009 elections won by the Communists, young people turned out en masse in the Moldovan capital after responding to calls for protests on Twitter to denounce what they saw as a rigged vote.

Two people were killed and several wounded in the ensuing riots, which saw state buildings ransacked and set on fire.

The violence highlighted Moldova`s potential as a flashpoint and its stark divisions between those wanting closer relations with the European Union and its neighbour Romania and elderly citizens more nostalgic for the Soviet past.

Moldova was part of Romania after 1918, until it was annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in World War II. It remains a Romanian-speaking country with strong cultural ties to its larger neighbour to the east.

The government still does not control the Transdniestr region where pro-Russian authorities have created a self-declared but unrecognised republic that remains in an effective Soviet time warp.

Local authorities will not let Transdniestr residents take part in these elections, with the Chisinau leadership setting up polling stations along a river that separates the region from the rest of the country.

Moldovans resident abroad could play an important role in this election. The former Communist authorities made little effort to set up voting stations abroad, knowing expatriate votes would largely count against them.

This time however 75 polling stations will be opened abroad.

Bureau Report

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