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Moldova: Communist Party Wins Election

The Communist Party in Moldova has won a sweeping victory in yesterday's parliamentary election. With almost all the ballots counted, the Communists are expected to win at least 65 seats in the 101-member parliament. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines the vote and its possible impact on Chisinau's relations with both Russia and the breakaway Moldovan region of trans-Dnestr.

Prague, 26 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Communist Party of Moldova won an overwhelming victory in yesterday's parliamentary vote.

The country's Central Election Commission says that the Communists garnered half of the popular vote. Under the country's proportional voting system, the Communists will have at least 65 deputies in the 101-seat legislature. That surpasses the 61 seats needed to choose the next president, who is elected by parliament.

An alliance of centrist parties and blocs led by Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis came in a distant second with 13 percent of the popular vote. The radical nationalist Christian Democratic Popular Party was the only other party to clear the six percent hurdle and gain parliamentary representation. It won 8 percent of the vote.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has praised the conduct of Moldova's election officials, The OSCE said both the campaign and balloting were free and fair.

Charles Magee, the head of the OSCE's election monitoring mission in Chisinau, tells RFE/RL his team will issue a favorable report praising the respect for democratic values that has been shown by Moldovan officials.

"We were very pleased with the conduct of this election in Moldova. We think that it basically was done in a transparent and an efficient manner. It certainly indicates confidence in the democratic election process in this country."

Magee said the OSCE's main concern was the difficulties faced by as many as 80,000 citizens in Moldova's breakaway trans-Dnestr region because of the refusal of separatist authorities to allow polling stations there.

Although Moldovan officials set up eight polling stations on the west bank of the Nistru River, Magee said that only a few thousand people crossed from trans-Dnestr to vote. He said that the low turnout was largely due to efforts of the separatist authorities to discourage participation.

The Communist Party of Moldova is open in its commitment to Marxism-Leninism. It also places great importance on maintaining good ties with Russia. Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin told RFE/RL today that he wants to restore Russian as an official state language in Moldova.

"I think that this won't happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. We must organize an opinion poll within society to see what is the attitude of the majority of the people."

During the election campaign, Voronin said he would call for a public referendum on whether Moldova should enter the Union Treaty signed by Russia and Belarus in December 1999. That treaty envisages the creation of joint executive bodies and a joint legislature.

But Voronin's remarks to RFE/RL today indicate that he may be having second thoughts after receiving substantial criticism during the campaign.

"We will analyze everything that is positive and [determine] what advantages the Republic of Moldova might gain if it joins this Union of states, Russia-Belarus, from all points of view: political, social and economic, and so on. But above all [we must respect] the opinion of the citizens in the Republic of Moldova. Such [things] are not decided directly through changes in the constitution or through some special law. These decisions, such questions, must be decided though a special, nation-wide referendum."

This pro-Russian stance could help improve relations between Chisinau and authorities in the trans-Dnestr region and thereby ease separatists' concerns about possible discrimination against Russian speakers. Russian-speaking ethnic Slavs form a majority of the population in the narrow strip of territory to the east of Chisinau. The separatists have controlled the region since fighting a short war in 1992. A security force of about 2,000 troops from Russia's 14th Army also remains deployed there.

Vladimir Voronin told RFE/RL today that he welcomes the presence of the Russian troops. He says they have prevented weapons of the Soviet Red Army from being looted.

Despite his party's overwhelming electoral victory, Voronin says that he will probably ask his main political opponent -- centrist Prime Minister Braghis-- to continue to head the government. Constitutional changes made last autumn have greatly expanded the powers of parliament. Thus, the legislature could determine the country's domestic and foreign policy agenda, even if Braghis remained prime minister.

A decision by Braghis to stay at his post would lend support to reports from Moscow that Russian President Vladimir Putin helped broker a post-election power-sharing deal between Voronin and Braghis. Both Voronin and Braghis each met separately with Putin last December.

Moldova's economy is one of the weakest in all of Europe. In previous parliaments, the Communist Party opposed legislation aimed at speeding economic reforms. The party is responsible for delays in privatizing Moldova's valuable wine and tobacco producing firms. And Voronin's economic platform calls for stricter government controls on prices and other elements of the economy.

Stuart Hensel, a Moldovan expert for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, told RFE/RL today that he does not expect the Communists to reverse the market reforms of the past 10 years.

But Hensel says a three-year, $142 million loan program approved in December by the International Monetary Fund would be threatened if the new government fails to adhere to the privatization timetable that Braghis' government has agreed upon with the IMF.