, CHISINAU, Jul 29 – Moldovans voted on Wednesday in their second parliamentary elections in less than four months, after the previous polls led to violent anti-Communist riots and a bitter political standoff.
Voting began at 7.00 a.m. (0400 GMT) and was to continue until 9.00 p.m. (1800 GMT) in an election that will determine who succeeds President Vladimir Voronin, the Communist strongman who has ruled Moldova since 2001.
The vote will affect how Moldova — a former Soviet republic that is Europe’s poorest country — steers its foreign policy between the twin demands of the European Union and Moscow.
Voronin reluctantly called new elections in June after lawmakers failed to elect a new president due to a boycott by liberal opposition parties, which accused his ruling Communist Party of stealing the last election in April.
Now around 2.6 million voters are set to choose a new parliament in this nation of 4.3 million people wedged between Ukraine and Romania.
The parliament is then supposed to select a successor to Voronin, who must step down after serving the maximum two four-year terms permitted by the constitution.
Political analysts and opinion polls predict the Communist Party will take first place, but will not win the 61 out of 101 seats needed for the party to fully control the selection of the next president.
Besides the Communists, four opposition parties are tipped to have a chance of passing the five percent barrier needed to win seats.
In the April 5 election, the Communists won about 50 percent of the vote but were accused of fraud, prompting huge street protests and the sacking of the parliament building in Chisinau by young rioters.
Some Moldovans who cast their ballots early Wednesday voiced exasperation with the country’s ongoing political crisis.
"I am for the Communists; they create a certain stability. We can’t continue like this, with demonstrations, pogroms and repeat elections," said Sasha, 19, a student who voted in central Chisinau.
But analysts say there is a strong likelihood that Moldova’s impasse will continue, given that the population is split between pro-opposition urban youth and older rural voters loyal to the Communists.
Fuelling the divide is Moldova’s poverty, which leads numerous working-age adults to seek employment abroad, leaving behind the young and the elderly.
Many believe that a coalition is the solution to the deadlock, and last week Voronin announced that the Communist Party was open to a coalition with its opponents, after previously accusing them of plotting a coup.
However the three main liberal opposition parties have so far ruled out all dialogue with the Communists.
The diplomatic stakes are also high — while all major parties favour bringing Moldova into the European Union, the Communists have pursued an increasingly pro-Russian line in recent months.
Voronin’s government has accused neighbouring Romania, an EU member state which shares a common language and deep historical ties with Moldova, of fomenting the April riots.
Romania denies the charges, but it has raised questions about the Moldovan government’s handling of the disputed election.
Around 200 observers from the Organization for Co-operation and Security in Europe were monitoring Wednesday’s vote.