, CHISINAU, Jul 30 – Pro-Western forces in Moldova on Thursday surged ahead of the ruling Communist Party in knife-edge elections crucial for whether Europe’s poorest state aligns itself with the EU or Moscow.
The Communists — led by strongman President Vladimir Voronin — polled by far the highest votes of a single party in the parliamentary polls, said official results based on 97 percent of votes.
But its share of 45.1 percent of the vote was exceeded by the tally of four main opposition parties combined, including one led by a former leading Communist who defected in the run-up to the elections.
This would give the Communists only 48 seats in the new parliament and its opponents 53 seats, the central election commission said. The four parties do not have a formal coalition but have expressed readiness to work together.
"The Communist Party will have to join the ranks of the opposition and must not disturb Moldova on its path towards European integration," said Dorin Chritoaca, deputy head of the opposition Liberal Party.
Initial figures from Wednesday’s polls had looked good for the Communists but their opponents crept up as the night wore on and more results came in.
The new parliament will choose a successor to Voronin, who has served out the maximum mandate, at a crucial time for the country wedged between ex-Soviet Ukraine and EU member state Romania.
The elections were called less than four months after the last polls which were marred by deadly post-election violence after the opposition accused the Communists of vote rigging.
It appears that Moldova’s political landscape has been transformed by the defection of former Communist parliament speaker Marian Lupu to lead the small Democratic Party.
The three traditionally largest parties of the anti-Communist opposition — Liberal Democrats, the Liberal Party and the Our Moldova Coalition — together were set to win 40 seats, the election commission said.
But the Democratic Party was to garner 13 seats, giving the opposition a total of 53 and meaning they can control the choice of the next president if they agree on a candidate.
"We are ready to work with the Democratic Party if it is definitively separated from the Communist Party," the head of Our Moldova, Serafim Urechean, told Moldovan television.
The opposition are seeking closer ties with the European Union and Moldova’s neighbour Romania, with which it shares an almost identical language and close cultural ties.
However, Moscow would much prefer the Communist Party to stay in power and not risk losing influence over another ex-Soviet country with pro-Western governments also in power in Ukraine and Georgia.
Voronin had been eyeing the post of speaker to keep an influence even after quitting the presidency.
In the April 5 election, the Communists won about 50 percent of the vote but were accused of fraud, prompting huge numbers of young opposition activists to respond to calls on websites like Twitter and Facebook and take to the streets.
The street protests that followed included the sacking and burning of the parliament building in Chisinau by young rioters that Russia and the Communists blamed on interference from Romania.
Moldova’s poverty prompts numerous working-age adults to seek employment abroad, leaving behind the young and the elderly.
The country has Europe’s lowest per capita income with an average monthly wage of just over 250 dollars (185 euros) and 25 percent of the active working population is employed abroad, mostly in the construction sector.