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Moldova: Parliament To Try To Elect President

Moldova's parliament convenes tomorrow to try to choose a president, but neither of the two candidates appears to have enough support to win in the first round. The vote follows constitutional changes this summer putting parliament -- and not the people -- in charge of electing a president for the first time in the country's history. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker looks at the two candidates and the prospects that neither emerges as the victor.

Prague, 30 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Moldova's parliament will be meeting tomorrow to choose a successor to President Petru Lucinschi, whose four-year term ends in January.

It's the first time since independence that parliamentary deputies and not the people will be electing the president, following constitutional changes this year intended to reduce the president's powers.

The 101 deputies will be choosing between two candidates: communist Vladimir Voronin and the chairman of the constitutional court, Pavel Barbalat. Both entered the contest only last week and neither is expected to gain the 61 votes needed to win in the first round.

If deputies can't agree on a candidate, a second round would be held in three days. If no candidate is elected, Lucinschi can then dissolve parliament and call for fresh parliamentary elections.

Voronin, who is 59, is the founder and leader of the Moldovan Communist party. An ex-Soviet functionary, he was nominated by the Communist faction, which is the largest in parliament with 40 seats.

Voronin says that, despite his strong party affiliation, if elected he would try to represent all interests in society:

"A president should not represent the interests of one political party or another. I think whoever is elected president, he should rise above and reflect the interests of the society as a whole in his activity."

If elected, Voronin promises to maintain state ownership and to slow or curtail the sale of state-owned assets to private hands. International lenders have made privatization a key issue in whether Moldova receives outside financing.

Voronin, who was born in the breakaway region of Transdniester, is also advocating stronger ties with Russia.

Barbalat, who is 65, is the head of Moldova's Constitutional Court. He is considered an outsider with relatively little political experience. He was nominated by a coalition of parliamentary factions accounting for about 55 mandated seats.

He said this week that until very recently he had never even considered running for president, but then accepted the candidacy only after a phone call from parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov:

"In June and July, I had some visitors over from parliament who asked me how I would react if they put my name forward to run for president. I said quite categorically I wasn't even thinking about it and I wasn't prepared for it. Then some publications appeared. Then again, during a meeting after Mr. Voronin registered as a candidate, parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov called me and asked me whether I accept to run for president."

Barbalat, who was also born in Transdniester, says his main task as president would be to end the struggle between different branches of power, particularly between the presidency and the parliament, which has plagued Moldova for years. He too says he would work to unite all deputies for the good of the country.

The election is viewed both inside and outside the country as a test of the Moldova's political maturity.

Diacov was quoted in the weekly "Argumenty i Fakty Moldova" as saying the country risks dissolving into what he called chaos unless deputies can unite around a president.

He says any prolonged failure to elect a president would put into jeopardy credits from the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, that the country needs to finance an economic recovery.

International financial institutions say Moldova -- a country of about 4.3 million people -- is the poorest in Europe. They say more than 90 percent of the population survives on less than $1 a day.

The IMF has suspended financing, demanding the country continue with plans to privatize state-owned companies and pass a restrictive state budget. Today, parliament took a big step forward in getting renewed funding by passing that budget in a final reading.

(The Romanian Service's Dan Ionescu and NCA's Eugen Tomiuc and Bruce Jacobs contributed to this story.)

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.