Moldova’s presidency referendum flops

The EU-Moldova Association Agreement was overwhelmingly approved by the European Parliament today.

A referendum in Moldova to decide whether to elect the president by popular vote appeared to have flopped yesterday (5 September) due to a low turnout, according to Central Election Commission figures.

Commission secretary Iurie Ciocan told journalists that turnout stood at 29.67%, with final figures to come in only from the breakaway territory of Transdniestria and from Moldovans working in the West.

Commentators said these were not likely to influence the final turnout enough to bring it close to the 33.34% required to make the referendum valid.

The outcome was a blow for the ruling West-leaning Alliance for European Integration, which had billed the referendum as a way to end political paralysis, and a triumph for the opposition Communists, who had called for a boycott of the vote.

Alliance leaders had expressed confidence that they would easily gain the required turnout and go on to win support for presidential elections by popular vote.

Opinion surveys had predicted a vote in favour of ditching the present system, under which the head of state is elected by parliament.

But ex-president Vladimir Voronin, who leads the Communists, made a powerful appeal on the eve of the poll for people to stay at home, and voting appeared to be very sluggish from the start.

The Communists, ousted by the ruling four-party Alliance for European Integration in an election in July 2009, said voters had rallied to Voronin's boycott call, though apathy and indifference may have played a big part.

"The figure of 29.67% is fully representative," the Election Commission's Ciocan said. The only voting figures yet to come in were from secessionist Transdniestria, which does not recognise the poll, and from Moldovans working abroad.

Lack of a president

Moldova has had no full-time president for 18 months, with the Alliance unable to muster enough parliamentary votes to install a head of state.

The Alliance says this has held up reforms that are urgently needed to bring the ex-Soviet state, one of Europe's poorest, into the mainstream. It had promised direct elections for president and parliament on 14 November if the referendum succeeded.

Moldova, a country of 3.5 million people tucked between Romania and Ukraine, has an unresolved 20-year-old standoff with Transdniestria and is on poor terms with Russia, which supplies most of its oil and gas.

The average income is about $270 per month and more than 430,000 Moldovans work abroad to support families back home. The EU says Moldova needs major reforms to qualify to join the bloc.

Corruption is rampant, the judiciary, state security and police are politicised, and media tend to toe the line of whoever is in power.

Parliament speaker Mihai Ghimpu, one of the Alliance's leading lights, has served as acting president. Prime Minister Vlad Filat and charismatic centre-left politician Marian Lupu had been regarded as favourites to win election as president in the event of the referendum succeeding.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

 

Moldova is a former Soviet republic, and was part of Romania before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. It is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Moldovans speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls it the 'Moldovan language'. Russian is also widely spoken. 

Transnistria, a Moldovan region east of the Dniester River, has been considered a 'frozen conflict' area since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has a predominantly ethnic Russian and Ukrainian population. Although internationally Transnistria is part of Moldova, de facto its authorities do not exercise any power there. 

The president of Moldova is elected by a three-fifths majority of the vote in parliament. The Communist Party elected their fellow member Vladimir Voronin in 2001, and he was re-elected in 2005. Having completed two terms, he now has to step down. 

Elections held in April 2009 were marred by violence and fraud (EURACTIV 08/04/09). The poll gave the ruling communists control of 60 seats in the parliament, just one short of electing their candidate Zinaida Greceanu as president. After successive votes in the 101-seat parliament failed to elect a president, early elections were called, held on 29 July 2009. The pro-European opposition, consisting of the Liberal Democratic party, the Liberal party, the Democratic party and 'Our Moldova', won a combined majority of 53 seats. 

On 8 August 2009, the pro-European parties agreed to create a government coalition, called the Alliance for European Integration (EURACTIV 18/08/09). On 28 August, they elected Liberal party leader Mihai Ghimpu as parliamentary speaker, in a vote boycotted by the communists. 

On 11 September 2009 Voronin announced his resignation (EURACTIV 11/09/09). Mihai Ghimpu took over as acting president pending early elections next year.

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