06.04.2009 Eugen Tomiuc. Radu Benea of RFE/RL's Moldovan Service contributed to this report 318
President Vladimir Voronin waves to supporters at a polling station in Chisinau on April 5. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's party appears poised to set a record for communist parties in the post-Soviet era, winning its third consecutive election victory in the past eight years.
With almost 98 percent of the vote counted, the Communists have gained just over 50 percent of the vote, giving them 61 of the parliament's 101 seats.
With that, they have secured the three-fifths of parliamentary votes needed to elect a new president without having to gain the support of other parties.
The turnout was almost 60 percent out of a 2.6 million-strong electorate. Up to 1 million Moldovans are estimated to be working abroad.
The new Moldovan parliament now has until June 8 to elect a president to replace Voronin.
In power since 2001, he cannot run for a third consecutive term. However, he has made clear that he intends to remain very much in control of the party, which he has spent the past nine years essentially rebuilding from scratch.
The job of prime minister would be a natural next step. But there are indications that Voronin, who is 68, may not be interested in assuming a post that holds heavy day-to-day responsibilities.
Instead, Voronin may opt for taking up the position of parliament speaker, or head of the Communists' parliamentary group.
He is scheduled to step down on April 7, but will stay on as acting president until a new head of state is elected. There has been no obvious front-runner to replace Voronin, who remains the dominant figure in Moldovan politics.
The Communists have staked their claim on building a "European" Moldova while maintaining friendly ties with Moscow. They came to power in 2001 promising to restore Soviet-era living standards in a country where the average monthly income at the time was just $30.
Voronin, a former Soviet general who served as interior minister in Soviet Moldova, was once staunchly pro-Russian, but turned toward the West in 2004.
After the Communists won reelection in 2005, they grew more vocal in promising closer ties with the European Union, and a more prosperous Moldova.
Prosperity, however, continues to elude many Moldovans. The average monthly wage is now just $240, making it the poorest country in Europe.
The global economic crisis has also sparked a sharp drop in remittances from abroad, which account for one-third of Moldova's GDP.
The Communists, perhaps looking to draw attention away from their role in the economy, instead played the stability card during the election campaign, saying a party win would help shepherd the country safely through the crisis.
Their victory, as in the past, appears to have been enabled by a faithful and reliable segment of poor rural voters dependent on state pensions and subsidies.
Moldovan political analyst Igor Munteanu thinks the Communists also enjoyed an unfair advantage during the campaign. "These results were possible only because the voting process became detached from the standards and principles set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE]," he says.
Munteanu says that the Communists "abused administrative resources to a degree that would have made Soviet-era Communists green with envy. From morning till night, state officials who were also candidates were able to use public institutions to their advantage -- to offer presents, to use official meetings for party functions."
Also playing to the Communists' advantage was the fact that many of the younger voters most likely to vote for the opposition are working abroad, often illegally, and were not able to vote.
Three other parties -- all pro-European -- managed to get past the 6 percent threshold for representation in parliament.
Following the Communists in a distant second was the Liberal Party of Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca. With 13 percent of the vote, the Liberals will have 16 mandates in parliament.
The Liberal Democrats (PLDM) won just over 12 percent, translating into 14 seats.
The third party, the Our Moldova Alliance (AMN) of former Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean, won 11 seats with just under 10 percent of the vote.
Analyst Munteanu said the three opposition parties have grounds to file a joint complaint to international bodies regarding the alleged Communist abuse of power and administrative resources in the campaign.
The OSCE said in a statement that the election "met many international standards and commitments," but added that there is still room for improvement to prevent "undue administrative interference and to increase public confidence."