* This article has been corrected since its original posting.
CHISINAU -- The leadership of Moldova's ruling Communist Party was facing a crucial split the day before lawmakers in Chisinau were due to meet for one last attempt to elect a president.
That vote failed
when opposition deputies stuck to their pledges to boycott the process, putting the country on an almost certain path to fresh elections.
Former parliament speaker Marian Lupu, who was widely seen as the Communists' candidate as the next prime minister, suggested to RFE/RL's Moldovan Service the day before the vote that he no longer considered himself a member of the Communist Party.
For two months, Moldova's three often-quarrelsome main opposition parties have stood as a solid bloc against the dominant Communists, who have dominated the corridors of power throughout much of outgoing President Vladimir Voronin's two terms dating back to 2001.
Not a single opposition lawmaker has voted with the Communists to allow them to elect a president and secure that party's monopoly on power in the country.
Lupu's apparent decision to abandon the Communists' current path now shifts the balance of power toward the opposition and seems to make new legislative elections inevitable.
He told RFE/RL on June 2 that he believes the party is fundamentally undemocratic and cannot be reformed from within.
"When you realize that [party] decisions run contrary to your arguments and beliefs, that these decisions are made irrespective of opposing arguments and that at the same time you must bear responsibility for decisions that do not represent you – that is a big dilemma. And it needs a logical solution,” Lupu said.
The Communist Party controls 60 votes in the 101-seat legislature, but 61 votes are needed to elect a successor to Voronin. The opposition had boycotted the previous attempt to elect the Communist candidate, acting Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii, on May 20 and has pledged to do the same on June 3. Voronin Misstep?
Legislative elections in April sparked violent demonstrations that left two people dead, more than 100 detained, and the parliament and presidential offices smoldering.
Protesters hit the streets in force after the April elections.
The protesters were outraged by preliminary official results of the voting that gave Voronin's Communist Party 61 seats.
In the wake of the rioting, Voronin agreed to a recount and the new results gave the Communists 60 seats, one short of the amount needed to elect a new president. Ruling party hard-liners may now regret being so magnanimous.
Although Voronin may no longer serve as president, he has made it clear that he intends to retain control over the country he has ruled for nearly a decade. His succession plan was simple and elegant: He would leave the presidency and become speaker of parliament. His prime minister, Greceanii, would become president and former parliament speaker Lupu would be named prime minister.
But this plan was stymied by the stubborn unity of the opposition, intent on forcing new elections and, ultimately, a more equitable division of power. Now it is in tatters following Lupu's statement and the subsequent vote.Chance Of New Elections
Opposition leaders explain their unanimity in opposing Voronin's transition plan by citing their devotion to country and to the rule of law. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vlad Filat told RFE/RL ahead of the June 3 vote that the standoff could prove a milestone for the impoverished country.
"No president of Moldova will be elected, and this will lead to early elections and then to a legitimate and more democratic parliament that will then be able to elect a president for the citizens of Moldova and the installation of a government that will respect the laws and human rights and will offer a clear European path for the present and the future," Filat said. "I am proud to be among those who will initiate this procedure for early elections because I want to see the rule of law in Moldova, not the rule of Voronin's 'goodwill.'"
The opposition's solidarity may also have been bolstered by the broad international attention focused on Moldova since the April rioting and by the country's inclusion last month in the European Union's Eastern Partnership program. The Eastern Partnership holds the potential of an unprecedented level of European engagement for Moldova.
Opposition lawmakers may also feel chastened by the experience of the Christian Democratic Popular Party. In 2005, that leading opposition party agreed to vote with the Communists for Voronin's second term as president and, as a result, the party's popularity plummeted and it failed to gain any seats in parliament in the April elections.
One voter in Chisinau warned the opposition to avoid such a fate. "It will be too clear if someone sells out the opposition, like [Christian Democrat leader Iurie] Rosca did a few years ago," one voter in Chisinau advised the opposition. "They must do what they believe is right."'On A Mission'
Lupu's presumed defection revealed a split within the Communist Party along generational lines. The cherubic 42-year-old has been seen as a Western-oriented reformer with the potential to present a new face for Moldova on the international stage.
Moreover, such a split within the ruling elite is emblematic of processes going on within the country as a whole. The April rioting appeared to demonstrate a weakening of the old split between Russian-speaking Moldovans and Romanian-speaking Moldovans, which has dominated the country's politics since independence.
The demonstrators were overwhelmingly young, but were evenly split between Russian and Romanian speakers and united against the perceived corruption and antidemocratic practices of the ruling Communists.
Tensions, rhetoric, and expectations were on the rise ahead of the June 3 legislative session.
"I think no one in the opposition will vote for a president," a woman in Chisinau told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service. "It is obvious they want to pursue this all the way to the end. Maybe they are on a mission."* CORRECTION: The original version stated that Lupu had "decided" to quit the Communist Party. He has rejected that interpretation of his statements, although he continues to express his frustration and displeasure with the party. Our original story also erroneously stated that he planned to participate in possible new elections with opposition parties. Reports from Chisinau claim Lupu held exploratory talks with at least one opposition party, but he rejected suggestions that such a move was already under way.RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report