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Page last updated at 23:43 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 00:43 UK

Moldova: Divided as ever over new poll

By Tom Esslemont
BBC News, Chisinau, Moldova

The last time Moldovans went to the polls - less than four months ago - the result was disputed and the subsequent opposition protests descended into violence.

Igor Strechi
Igor Strechi says he came onto the streets to demand democracy

Political stalemate over the selection of a new president has forced the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections.

As they head to the polls again, voters are concerned that the real issues facing the country are not being addressed.

Opposition supporter Igor Strechi says he was one of those who protested at the result of the 5 April poll.

"I wanted to take part in a peaceful protest, like thousands of others. We disputed the result of the election. We wanted democracy, freedom of speech and press liberalisation," he says, pointing to parliament.

"Then it turned violent."

Crowds poured into the parliament building. They looted it and then set fire to it. it was only the next day that police took back control.

More than three months later it is still being repaired and the government and opposition are arguing about who was responsible for the violence.

'Propaganda'

"Definitely we are not interested in destroying the parliament because we won the elections," says Grigore Petrenco, a member of the ruling Communist Party.

"We got 60 seats of 101. What was our interest in dividing society?"

Map

The deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Dorin Chirtoaca, has been singled out by the authorities for alleged involvement.

His party performed best out of the three principal opposition parties during April's election. But he says he is the victim of government propaganda.

"They see me as Hitler, they see me as a Nazi," he says.

"They need to create an image of an enemy. They need arguments to convince the citizens because they don't have anything to offer for them."

Mr Chirtoaca's party strongly favours integration into the European Union. His supporters have been out on the streets in the build up to the vote, wearing blue and yellow T-shirts and handing out flyers emblazoned with the EU logo.

"People will vote to prevent the situation from getting worse than it is now after eight years of Communist Party rule," says Mr Chirtoaca, referring to the fact that Moldova, Europe's poorest country, is heavily reliant on handouts from the IMF and, recently, from Russia.

To get a sense of what people really think about Moldova's economy I travelled to a food market on the edge of Chisinau.

 Moldovan glances at Communist Party posters
The Communist Party's support base is concentrated in rural areas

"Everyone will vote for Mr Chirtoaca's party," says Maria, 48, who runs a stall.

"I have to sell vegetables. I have no choice. People do not have money to buy the things I sell. It would be better if we could join the European Union, then at least we could travel more easily."

The Communist Party support base is generally located in the rural areas. But in Chisinau, too, its younger supporters have been out in force.

Teenagers wearing red T-shirts and waving hammer-and-sickle flags gathered outside the government buildings this week.

"Lenin! Lenin!" they chanted.

But their T-shirts, too, carried the EU logo and their party vocally supports a path to EU membership.

Luke-warm relationship

However, analysts say the route to the EU would be faster under one of the more Western-leaning opposition parties because the Communists are also supported by Russia.

The Communists also have a lukewarm relationship with EU-member Romania, Moldova's neighbour.

Zinaida Greceanii, left, and Vladimir Voronin
Outgoing President Voronin had backed Prime Minister Greceanii's candidacy

Igor Botan, from the Association for Participatory Democracy in Chisinau, says: "There is an understanding that for Moldova to modernise quickly there is no other way than to join the European Union. Also the EU will help Moldova because it does not want to have an unstable country at its borders."

But Moldovans go to the polls amid a great deal of uncertainty.

It is far from clear whether the opposition parties can muster enough support to gain power.

Some pollsters have suggested they would need to enter a coalition with the Communists to do so.

"The main hurdle to political stability is that the two opposing sides may have to enter a coalition. But the relationship between the Communists and the rest is so poisoned by what happened in April that it is hard to see how that can happen," says Mr Botan.

It is also unclear whether or not the opposition would accept the results were they to hand power to the Communist Party - just as they did on 5 April.



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Country profile: Moldova
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