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Moldova election focus is president's grip on power

President Vladimir Voronin's ruling Communist Party looks set to hold onto its parliamentary majority in Moldova's election next month when the main focus will be how Voronin manages to stay in, or close to, power.

Parliament elects the president in Europe's poorest country and Voronin, in power since 2001, cannot stand for a third consecutive term. But he has made it plain he wants to remain in the driving seat, in the manner of Russia's former president, now prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

Moldova's Central Election Commission this week registered the last of the candidates in 15 groups running for 101 seats on April 5.

Surveys dating from late last year put the Communists far in front with 23-30 percent support and up to five other parties have a realistic chance of clearing the 6 percent needed to get into the assembly. About half of voters remain undecided.

Voronin, 67, is the only Communist leader of a former Soviet state, governing 4.1 million people in a crescent of land sandwiched between EU-member Romania and Ukraine and beset by an 18-year-old separatist rebellion.

"Whatever I end up doing after the election, I will be right in the middle of all events in the country," he said before the election was called last month. "Whether I am a simple deputy or take on some other job will be up to the party."

Communists hold 56 seats in the outgoing parliament and Voronin aims to win two-thirds of the seats. Analysts say the president may try to retain his hold on power by becoming speaker of parliament or head of its largest faction.

Voronin says he wants to take on the role of a "Moldovan Deng Xiaoping" -- the veteran Chinese leader of the 1990s -- and suggested any of six other figures could take his current job.

Initially pro-Russian in outlook, he later opposed Moscow on grounds that the continued presence of its troops in Moldova was the chief impediment to solving the separatist "frozen conflict" in Russian-speaking Trandniestria.

Voronin promotes Moldova's integration with the European Union, but has cooled on closer ties with Romania, with which Moldova has cultural and linguistic ties.

The president could still travel to Moscow before the vote to meet Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev and Transdniestria's self-styled president, Igor Smirnov, as part of peace efforts.

Opposition parties accuse Voronin of usurping power and call for closer ties with the European Union.

Three parties in clear opposition to the president and broadly pro-Romanian in outlook are likely to win seats.

The Liberal Party of Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca scores 5-6 percent in polls while Our Moldova and the Liberal Democrats have 4-5 percent each. New opinion polls are expected next week.

Three other parties likely to clear the 6 percent barrier appear ready to work with the Communists. A number of independent candidates are also standing. Reuters


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