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Moldova votes in referendum on direct presidential elections

RIA Novosti

18:12 05/09/2010

CHISINAU, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - People in the former Soviet republic of Moldova voted on Sunday in a referendum on whether the country's president should be directly elected, with turnout at around 18 percent with five hours of voting remaining.

The West-leaning coalition government campaigned for the change as a way to break the political deadlock that has left the country without a full-fledged president for 18 months.

With opinion polls showing strong support for direct presidential elections, the outcome of the referendum could hinge on the turnout, which must pass 33 percent for the vote to be valid. The head of Moldova's Central Election Commission, Yevgeny Stirbu, said that by 16:00 local time (13:00 GMT), 18 percent of registered voters had cast ballots.

The polls opened at 07:00 (04:00 GMT) and were to close at 21:00 (18:00 GMT).

The Communist Party has called for a boycott of the referendum, and a senior party official has already accused the authorities of trying to manipulate the result.

The impoverished former Soviet republic has been divided between the Communists, who had dominated the political scene for most of the decade, and the ruling coalition of four parties who seek closer ties with the European Union.

Parliamentary elections in April and July last year left no political force strong enough to secure the 61 votes in the 101-seat chamber to elect a new president.

The government has said that if the referendum passes, it will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in November.

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