The pro-European Communist Party of Moldova has won a decisive victory in the ex-Soviet republic's parliamentary elections, with 49.93 percent of the vote, officials said Monday.
Moldova will likely continue to have Europe's only Communist president
The center-left party headed by President Vladimir Voronin had captured 49.9 percent of the popular vote with 98 percent of all ballots counted, according to data made public by Moldova's Central Election Commission.
Forecasts showed the Communists would secure 60 of the 101 seats in the parliament, election commission officials said.
Some media reports said the Communists would win at least 61 seats, which would put the party in a position to select the country's next president.
Final official results of the vote were expected to be announced Wednesday.
Voronin said the next legislature and the government it selects would continue policies of past years.
"Why should we change anything, if the direction we've taken has produced such good [election] results?" he asked reporters at a press conference.
Three center-right opposition parties also appeared to be on track to place members in Moldova's 101-seat legislature.
The Communists were followed in a distant second place by the Liberal Party with 12.78 percent of the vote and the Liberal Democrats (LPDM) with 12.26 percent, election officials said.
No chance of coalition government
Moldova's President and Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin
But Voronin said that the Communists would not consider a long-term coalition government, but might well have to vote in the next president in cooperation with the opposition.
"We have splendidly managed the country for eight years without a coalition. If we get enough votes to form a government, it still may be, that we will need a coalition for the election of a President," Voronin said.
Eight other parties and five individual candidates failed to overcome a minimum percentage needed to place representatives in parliament, the barrier being 6 percent for parties and 3 percent for individual candidates.
Voronin, Europe's only communist president, is scheduled to step down on April 7 after two consecutive terms. He is barred by the constitution from running for a third term.
His successor was to be elected between April 8 and June 8.
Moldovan media was widely reporting current Moldovan Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii, a close Voronin ally, as the Communists' most likely candidate to be the next president.
Pro-European with links to Moscow
The communists, who have pledged to build a "European Moldova" while maintaining friendly ties with Moscow, came to power in 2001 and were reelected in 2005.
The Communist Party aligns itself with Europe and Moscow
The party was once staunchly pro-Russian but changed course dramatically in 2005 and today seeks closer ties with the European Union as well as good ties with Russia, on which it depends for gas and other supplies.
Despite speculation suggesting demonstrations against the vote, opposition leaders by Monday morning had made no charges of voting fraud but said they "reserved the right" to demonstrate against the election results if the final count appeared flawed.
"We have reserved [the capital] Chisinau's central square for the next two weeks," said Vladimir Filat, leader of the Liberal Democrats, on a Pro-TV television report. "We are not professional revolutionaries, but if we obtain evidence of vote-fixing by the ruling party, we will go out on the streets," he said.
A difference between actual numbers produced by ballot counts and support predicted for the Communists by an independent exit poll conducted by the IMAS survey company with European Union and US support was a possible reason for opposition demonstrations, the Infotag news agency reported.
But Filat and other opposition leaders made clear they intended first to challenge the Communists in parliament by forming a shadow government to prepare for the present administration's fall.
"Under the present circumstances the Communists cannot stay in power for long," Filat said. "The time is past when the Communists could buy support from opposition ranks...I can vouch for every member of the opposition personally."