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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists Win Moldovan Elections

CHISINAU, Moldova - Communists won a decisive victory Monday in parliamentary elections, which likely will bring this poor former Soviet republic closer to Russia's orbit.

Near-final results gave the pro-Moscow Communists slightly more than half of the votes. With 97 percent of the ballots counted early Monday, the Communists had 50.2 percent of support. With the redistribution of votes, the Communists will hold nearly 70 percent of seats in the 101-seat parliament.

President Petru Lucinschi, an independent who has been pro-Western, called the vote after the legislature failed on four occasions to elect a new president when Lucinschi's term expired. Centrists - who favor closer ties to Western Europe - blocked Communist candidate Vladimir Voronin.

"It is not possible ... to go back to the old times," said Voronin after learning his party was in the lead. He said he wanted to make Russian an official language alongside Moldovan to "create social peace" in the country of 4.3 million. About one-third of the population uses Russian as their mother tongue, and most people are bilingual.

Voronin has repeatedly been asked whether he would consider entering a union with Russia and Belarus, and has never ruled out the possibility, saying the idea would have to be studied.

Voronin said he would retain Dumitru Braghis as prime minister. Braghis heads the centrist Braghis Alliance, which came in second, with about 13.5 percent of the vote.

The Popular Christian Democratic Party, which leans toward Western Europe, was third, with about 8 percent. The party of former President Mircea Snegur had 5.63 percent, under the 6 percent needed to gain seats in parliament. Fourteen parties that participated in the elections did not top the 6 percent threshold. That means votes will be redistributed proportionally among the parties that entered parliament.

Moldova's presidency has become an increasingly ceremonial post in recent years. Lawmakers seeking to weaken Lucinschi's authority stripped the presidency of powers, and now the prime minister is the strongest government position.

Lucinschi has suggested that one of the new parliament's priorities should be passing a law that allows the electorate to choose the president directly, instead of the legislature.

Final results were expected Wednesday. Some 2.4 million people were eligible to vote and turnout was 69 percent.

Moldova is located between Ukraine and Romania. The average monthly wage is the equivalent of just dlrs 30, while annual inflation is 26 percent. Unemployment hovers around 15 percent.

Voronin, 59, has said he supports democracy and private ownership. He also admires Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The next government will be democratic and reformist," said Voronin, after casting his ballot in downtown Chisinau.

But Mircea Snegur, Moldova's president from 1992-96, claimed: "This a choice between East and West. If the Parliament is 'red' then we can expect to be part of a Russia-Belarus union."