Russia faces loss of another ally after Moldovan election

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The Independent Online

Moldova, Europe's poorest country, went to the polls yesterday in an election that is likely to see another former Soviet republic turn its back on the Kremlin in favour of European integration.

Moldova, Europe's poorest country, went to the polls yesterday in an election that is likely to see another former Soviet republic turn its back on the Kremlin in favour of European integration.

Although Moldova has little realistic chance of joining the EU any time soon because of its dire economy, that is the direction many of the country's political parties want it to go in.

Moldova's governing pro-Western Communists took the lead last night with 42 per cent of the votes, according to an early exit poll based on partial voting. The centrist Democratic Moldova Bloc received 28 per cent of the votes while the centre-right Popular Christian Democratic Party took 14 per cent. If the projection proves to be accurate, the Communists will remain in power, but with a diminished majority.

It was predicted that the party led by Vladimir Voronin, Europe's last Communist head of state, would win the ballot comfortably, though opposition forces claim a velvet-style revolution may yet occur.

Appearances can be deceptive: Mr Voronin has latterly become Communist in name only and has started looking West not East, a fact that has frustrated the would-be revolutionaries who accuse him of stealing their political clothes. But significant opposition has emerged in the form of the Democratic Moldova Bloc, which seeks ties with the West and Moscow and the pro-Romanian Christian Democrats.

The election is crucial. It will decide the make-up of a new 101-seat parliament that will, in turn, vote to elect a new president - Mr Voronin has been in power since 2001. Once staunchly pro-Russian, he performed a U-turn in 2003 and, in effect, stuck two fingers up at Moscow over its support for the Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniester, the source of a civil war in the early 1990s.

Mr Voronin wants the 1,200 Russian "peacekeepers" who are stationed there to withdraw and for the crime-infested, economically robust enclave to return to Moldova proper. However, Moscow has shown itself reluctant to act on the issue.

In the approach to the election, relations worsened still further. Mr Voronin expelled 20 Russians he accused of being spies and blocked the entry of 100 Russian election observers he alleged were bent on disrupting the ballot. He has also claimed Russian forces are planning to assassinate him and had already alarmed Russia by abandoning a pledge to make Russian the country's official second language (most of Moldova is Romanian-speaking) and by aligning himself with Brussels.

Russia struck back by threatening sanctions, notably by hiking the price of the oil and gas it supplies to Moldova, while the Russian media has broadcast allegations that Mr Voronin took a backhander from a crime boss.

Mr Voronin's "political epiphany" has posed a problem for his opponents. Heartened by the success of peaceful revolutions in the former Soviet states of Georgia and Ukraine, opposition politicians are hoping Moldova will have its own popular uprising on the back of the election, an election they contend is flawed. They have even booked the central square in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, for Ukraine-style demonstrations for the next two weeks. But pre-election opinion polls showed that the public doesn't agree. They showed the Communists enjoyed the support of 62 per cent of the populace.

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