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Moldova Coalition Shows Strain Ahead Of Referendum

Vlad Filat (left) and Marian Lupu attend Victory Day celebration on May 9 -- is one coalition too small for the two of them?

Vlad Filat (left) and Marian Lupu attend Victory Day celebration on May 9 -- is one coalition too small for the two of them?

CHISINAU -- The leaders of two of the four parties in Moldova's coalition government have signaled they may run against each other in a direct presidential election, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

The rivalry between Prime Minister Vlad Filat, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu could jeopardize the pro-Western alliance that last year ended a decade of Communist Party rule and brought the country closer to the European Union.

Voters in Moldova will be asked in a referendum on September 5 whether they approve of amending the constitution so the next president will be elected by a nationwide popular vote. Until now, the parliament has elected the president.

If voters say "yes" to the proposed change, presidential and parliamentary elections will probably be held concurrently on November 14.

Filat told the press this week that he has not ruled out running for president. Lupu, who has twice failed to be elected as president by parliament, immediately accused Filat of "violating the principles" on which the ruling alliance is based and warned of unspecified "consequences."

During both his failed presidential bids, Lupu was the alliance's joint candidate. He had hoped to run in that capacity in the upcoming presidential vote, though he has not said openly if he intends to run.

Filat, however, said this week that Moldova needed a strong president "born out of political competition," not a president "'made in a laboratory," a possible allusion to Lupu's status as the compromise candidate of the four ruling parties.

In an interview with RFE/RL today, Lupu was less harsh in his comments. In a possible allusion to Filat, he said, "The national interest should be above personal ambition."

He added that his Democratic Party, which some polls rate as the most popular of the four in the alliance, did not rule out a postelection alliance with "the center-left," meaning that it could part company with its three center-right partners in the current government.

Filat and Lupu are seen by most analysts as the two strongest potential presidential candidates, especially after the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this week that former President Vladimir Voronin, a popular veteran Communist, cannot run in the fall election because he has already served two consecutive terms.

Analysts say that if Filat wins but the coalition splits up, he will try to strengthen the president's powers.

But Lupu told RFE/RL that he would fight against any attempts to make Moldova a "presidential republic."

Former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, who wants to make Orthodox Christianity classes mandatory in schools, is the only person who has formally declared his intention to run for president.