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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldovan Presidential Election

CHISINAU, Moldova - After scuffles and shouting matches, Moldova's parliament failed Friday to choose a new president in a race pitting a Communist official against a candidate who favors closer ties to Europe.

Deputies managed to hold a vote during a rowdy session featuring shouting matches as well as pushing and shoving. Parliament later declared that ballot invalid, however, because it was marred by irregularities.

The next vote has not yet been scheduled.

To win, Communist candidate Vladimir Voronin or independent Pavel Barbalat needed 61 votes. In the ballot declared invalid, Voronin finished ahead of Barbalat, 48-37. Fifteen votes were tossed out after deputies declared they had been deliberately ruined.

The election marked the first time that members of the 101-seat parliament rather than the voters chose the head of state in what is supposed to be a secret ballot.

The Communist Party is Moldova's biggest with 40 seats. Barbalat, 65, head of the Constitutional Court, counted on the support of many centrist deputies.

But Communist lawmakers tried to look over the shoulders of fellow party members to make sure they were voting for Voronin, 55. That led to angry outbursts from Communist deputies.

?It is a right to vote secretly,? shouted Communist deputy Vadim Mishsin. ?It is not an obligation to vote for one candidate.?

According to the rules, parliament holds two rounds and if they are inconclusive, a third will be held within two weeks. After that, outgoing President Petru Lucinschi, a former Soviet Communist Party official, can dissolve parliament and call new elections to see whether a new legislature can settle on a winner.

Since Friday's vote was declared invalid, the process starts again from the beginning.

Parliament changed the constitution earlier this year to have the president chosen by parliament after disputes between Lucinschi and the legislature over the appointment of a new government, which damaged Moldova's already tenuous credibility with foreign lenders.

Barbalat said he decided to run in order to prevent a pro-Russian Communist from becoming president. Voronin has pledged not to interfere in Moldova's foreign policy to allay fears that he would make Moldova a satellite of Russia.

In his speech to lawmakers, Voronin said he wanted to reverse Moldova's path toward a market economy because ?it did not lead to better life for Moldova's citizens. Our citizens are leaving the country. We have to stop their exodus.?

Some 600,000 Moldovans have left the former Soviet republic since Moldova declared independence in 1991. The country is one of the most impoverished in the region.

Barbalat has called integration into the European Union ?a top priority.?

Moldova's president has become an increasingly ceremonial post in recent years as parliament has worked to enhance its authority. However, the president remains head of the country's Supreme Defense Council and can dissolve parliament. He also has the right to appoint a prime minister who must be approved by parliament.

Moldova was part of neighboring Romania until 1940 when it was annexed to the Soviet Union under a pact with Nazi Germany.

Two-thirds of its 4.3 million inhabitants are of Romanian descent, and the languages in both countries are virtually identical.

The average monthly salary in Moldova is the equivalent of $16.5, and unemployment stands at 15 percent. Wages and pensions are months in arrears.