A referendum to end political deadlock in Europe's poorest country of Moldova seems to have failed.
With nearly all votes in, election officials say turnout for the referendum on whether to elect the president by popular vote was just under 30 percent, about 3 percent short of the total needed to make the plebiscite valid.
The referendum aims to end a political deadlock that has left Moldova without a president for a year.
Though the referendum failed, CEC Secretary Iurie Ciocan said that 87 percent of those who did cast ballots on September 5 voted for changing the constitution.
Casting his ballot on September 5, acting President Mihai Ghimpu expressed hope the results would bring an end to the impasse.
Ghimpu's Liberal Party is one of four parties making up the Alliance of European Integration, which has been the country's ruling coalition since troubled elections last year.
Acting President Mihai Ghimpu exits a polling booth in Chisinau after marking his ballot.
"I voted for political stability," Ghimpu said. "I'm sure that our citizens understand the problems the coalition has had implementing the powers delegated to them on July 29, . And today they have to put an end to this constitutional blocking."
If approved, the referendum would do away with the system, in place since 2000, of electing a president through parliamentary vote. Administrative Backlog
Moldova's 101-seat parliament has been unable to muster the 61-seat super majority it has needed to name a successor to Communist leader Vladimir Voronin, who stepped down after two terms last September.
The country's pro-Western ruling coalition, the Alliance of European Integration, has just 53 seats. The opposition Communists control all but four of the remaining seats and have refused to give the coalition the votes it needs to select a president.
The situation has put Moldova, Europe's poorest country, at a crossroads between Moscow and the West, with Communists and the pro-Western alliance vying for influence over the country's future.
The Communists seemed to have the upper hand with a parliamentary victory in the spring of 2009. But bloody street protests against vote fraud led to a repeat election in July of that year, handing the win to the four-party coalition.
One-third of Moldova's 2.6 million eligible voters must turn out in order for the referendum to be valid.
Voronin led calls by the Communists for voters to boycott the referendum. The executive secretary of the Communist Party, Iurie Muntean, accused the government of attempting to falsify the referendum's outcome and said his party was keeping a parallel count of the vote. New Elections Possible
If the referendum did result in a "yes" vote, new elections would be held -- most likely in November -- to replace the deadlocked parliament and to elect a head of state.
Ghimpu said that, in the case of early elections, his Liberal Party will have its own candidate for the presidency. Two other parties in the ruling coalition have also suggested their candidates will seek the presidency.
Voronin, whose bid for a third term was rejected by the Supreme Court, has no obvious successor among the Communists. This means the political contest would likely pit coalition allies against each other. Speculation is also rife that a current coalition member, such as Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu, will leave the coalition and form a leftist bloc with the Communists.
Lupu's party has close ties with Russia's ruling United Russia party, which is headed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
After casting his vote in Chisinau, Lupu expressed hope the country's political stalemate would soon be resolved.
"I hope that after today's referendum we can finally end this political and constitutional crisis, which risks turning into a chronic one," Lupu said. "And if God forbids this to happen, we will not be able to carry out fundamental economic and social reforms, European reforms."
written by Daisy Sindelar, with contributions from RFE/RL's Moldovan Service and agency reports