It took lawmakers in Moldova more than 900 days to find a person who could muster the 61 votes (out of 101) to become the country's president.
But on March 16 their choice finally fell on 63-year-old career jurist Nicolae Timofti
, the articulate, soft-spoken chairman of the Supreme Council of Magistrates who has pledged wide-ranging reform, Moldovan military neutrality, and moving the country toward European integration.
"I am convinced that Moldova has no other future than a European future," Timofti said. "We have to walk forward on the road we have chosen, toward Europe. We must integrate into European structures at all levels."
Timofti's election must now be validated by the Constitutional Court, and he must be sworn in as president within 45 days.
Born in the village of Ciutulesti, Timofti graduated from the law department of Chisinau State University in 1972 and spent two years in the Soviet Army before beginning his career as a judge in 1976. After only four years on the bench, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of the Soviet Republic of Moldavia.
After independence, he served five years on the Chisinau Appellate Court. In 2005, he was appointed to the Higher Judicial Chamber. Last year, he was named chairman of the Supreme Council of Magistrates.
Timofti was nominated for president and backed by Moldova's ruling, pro-Western Alliance for European Integration (AIE). One of the leaders of the coalition, Liberal Party head Mihai Ghimpu, when discussing the nomination on March 12, emphasized Timofti's "progressive" credentials.
"He is a person who was with us when we started reforms in the 1990s," Ghimpu said. "He is a progressive man, and this means a lot for the Republic of Moldova."
About 8,000 protesters attended arally organized by the Communist opposition in central Chisinau on March 16.
Although the March 16 election represents a breakthrough in Moldova's long-running political deadlock between the AIE and the opposition Communist Party, it does not mean the end of crippling division.
Communist deputies boycotted Timofti's election, meaning that he ascends to the presidency only on the strength of the votes of the 62 AIE deputies, including three former Communists who defected to the ruling coalition weeks ago.
Thousands of Communists and their supporters gathered in the center of the capital after the vote to protest Timofti's election.
Emerges From Corrupt System
But skepticism of Timofti runs deeper, and his long association with Moldova's notoriously corrupt judicial system is a source of concern.
Alexei Tulbure, a former Moldovan ambassador to the United Nations, said on March 13 that Timofti had done nothing to advance judicial reform. "I personally know him only as the chairman of the Supreme Council of Magistrates. During his tenure there have been no changes. The whole judicial system is profoundly corrupt," he said.
Sergiu Mocanu, leader of the Anti-Mafia movement that campaigns against corruption, echoed this sentiment at a Chisinau press conference on March 13. "If Nicolae Timofti is elected Moldova's president, the 20-year-long cohabitation of the political class in Chisinau with the judiciary will conclude in a full marriage," he said.
Newly elected President Nicolae Timofti (left) smiles at Prime Minister Vlad Filat during a parliament session in Chisinau on March 16.
Timofti acknowledged the problems in the judiciary in an interview with RFE/RL's Moldovan Service on the eve of his election, and said he was determined to address them.
Timofti admitted that "a certain percentage" of judges were corrupt. "We know who they are and we will find ways and mechanisms to either correct them or get rid of them. There is no other way," he added. "Because they have gone over the top, over the limits of common sense, so we will simply have to remove them. And we will do that. I will help with that, within the limits of my competencies."
Little is known about Timofti as a person. He told Moldovan television earlier this week that he did not consult with his wife, lawyer Margareta Timofti, about his decision to seek the presidency because his family had a "tradition" of independent decision-making.
He spoke briefly about the couple's three adult sons. Two of them -- Alexei, 37, and Nicu, 31 -- graduated from law school but decided not to become lawyers because of Moldova's corrupt judicial system. Alexei now works as a lawyer for the World Bank in Washington, and Nicu is a popular sports journalist in Chisinau.
Timofti's youngest son, 22-year-old Stefan, studies economics in Chisinau.
Despite his Soviet upbringing, Timofti told RFE/RL that he believes in God, "like my mother. She's old now and she's confined to bed, she's 85 and in bad health, but before she was very much a churchgoer. We must believe in something and I believe in God."
Asked on the eve of his election what he hoped his legacy would be, Timofti positioned himself as part of a forward-looking team dedicated to Moldova's modernization and overcoming the current political gridlock.
"If I happen to be elected, my wish for when I have completed my presidential mandate is for people to say about Timofti that he worked with a strong, competent team, with a young, energetic prime minister, with an intelligent chairman of parliament and with an opposition that must operate within the legal framework," he said.
Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Moldova Service correspondents Valentina Ursu in Chisinau and Mircea Ticudean