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For The Third Time In Two Years, Moldovans Head To The Polls

A campaign poster for the Liberal Democratic Party, which according to opinion polls is in second place.
Voters in Moldova return to the polls on November 28 for the country's third parliamentary elections in less than two years.

The country has been in political deadlock since April 2009 when Moldovans took to the streets of the capital, Chisinau, to contest the results of parliamentary elections.

That rioting broke the Communist Party's faltering grip on power but produced a political stalemate between the left-leaning, pro-Russian Communists and a tentative coalition of four Western-oriented, center-right parties called the Alliance for European Integration (AIE).

After the divided parliament twice failed to elect a president, it was dissolved and new elections held in July 2009. But they were equally inconclusive, slightly boosting the strength of the AIE, but with the Communists remaining the largest legislative faction.

Long-Standing Deadlock

The new legislature again was unable to muster the 61 votes needed to elect a new president, and so was dissolved in September.

A voter on the streets of Chisinau, who did not give his name, tells RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service he's fed up with the standoff.

"The most important thing is to solve the political crisis in Moldova. It isn't good for us ordinary citizens, and it isn't good for the politicians. It would be good to know what we really want and which way Moldova is going after these elections," the voter said.

Such hopes are unlikely to be realized by the vote -- at least not directly. The latest polls show that as many as six parties -- up from the current five -- could gain seats in the new legislature and that the balance of forces will likely be little changed from the present status quo.

In all 20 parties and 19 independent candidates have been registered to compete in the elections, and the ballot paper is nearly a meter in length.

The Communist Party is ahead, polling about 35 percent according to the country's highly unreliable opinion surveys. The Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Vlad Filat is at about 20 percent, the Democratic Party of former Communist Marian Lupu rates 12 percent, the Liberal Party of parliament speaker and acting President Mihai Ghimpu has 11 percent, and the Our Moldova Alliance has 6 percent.

Those four parties -- the Liberal Democrats, the Democrats, the Liberals, and Our Moldova -- form the ruling AIE, but they are campaigning in the current elections separately. Although they say they'll continue the coalition if all four are returned to the legislature, it could be a different story if only three parties overcome the 4 percent threshold for mandates.

In that case, pressure for one or more of the AIE parties to form a center-left alliance with the Communist Party and end the stalemate would be ratcheted up. And all eyes would be on former Communist official Marian Lupu, whose Democratic Party has signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the ruling party of Russia headed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Russia has played an active role in the Moldovan election campaign, offering varying levels of support to at least five parties vying for legislative seats.

The United States and the European Union have generally endorsed the policies of the AIE. The EU hosted a ministerial meeting of its Eastern Partnership program in Brussels last week and offered a general vote of confidence for Moldova. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution on November 18 praising the country’s “extraordinary progress” in democratic and market reforms.

Chisinau-based political analyst Aneli Ute Gabany says that this support could play a role in the election.
Marian Lupu could be the kingmaker.

"I think that the coming elections are very important, and you can see this from the outside signals that have come from the EU and the United States," Gabany says. "They were very clear signals. The direction that Moldova will take is at stake, and this can be seen -- at least from the outside -- in this perspective."

A key variable in the elections will be turnout. The disciplined, older-generation, pro-Russia voters can be relied upon to show up in force.

Breakaway Region

In addition, the Russian-supported breakaway region of Transdniester will be participating in the voting, despite its unrecognized proclamation of independence. However, voters on the streets of the capital, Tiraspol, often expressed weariness with the long-running conflict in interviews with RFE/RL.

"We don't have any [television] channels so we don't know what is happening in Moldova. Our television and radio cover Moldova in a way that is useful for them [the leadership of the breakaway republic], but they don't show us what is really happening," says one female voter, who does not give her name. "So I, for example, would like to learn about Moldova, since I have Moldovan citizenship and I'd like to know."

But whether the younger, Western-oriented supporters of the AIE parties will come to the polls in sufficient numbers remains a big question mark. In September, the AIE tried to break the political stalemate with a constitutional referendum that would have introduced direct presidential elections. But that measure failed when turnout did not reach the required threshold of 33 percent, despite active "yes" campaigns by the AIE parties.

So far, the atmosphere has been calm and the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has praised the transparent, orderly, and unbiased conduct of the campaign.

On November 23, however, Communist candidate and former head of Moldova's intelligence service Artur Reshetnikov reported that he had been briefly kidnapped in Chisinau. He said unknown assailants forced him into a car, beat him, threatened him, and tried to force him to sign papers incriminating Communist Party leader and former President Vladimir Voronin.

Investigators are looking into the incident, and have not ruled out that it could have been a staged provocation to embarrass the AIE. The incident has raised tensions in the country somewhat.

Preliminary results from the November 28 voting should be announced at 11 p.m. local time on November 28, with updates every two hours through the night.

with contributions from RFE/RL's Moldovan Service correspondents Valentina Ursu and Oana Serafim