CHISINAU Moldova risks a prolonged political stalemate that may further slow down reforms in one of Europe's poorest nations as the only candidate for president said on Wednesday he was pulling out of this month's election.
The withdrawal of parliament speaker Marian Lupu means the presidential election, which takes place in parliament rather than by popular vote, might be delayed if no other candidate steps in. The vote is currently scheduled for January 15.
Ex-Soviet Moldova has been without a president for over two years as no group in parliament has been able to muster the necessary 61 votes out of 101.
Any further delay would prolong the political paralysis that has already stalled much-needed reform is areas such as trade regulations and the judiciary system. Moldova's economy relies heavily on wine exports and receives a bulk of its foreign currency inflows from laborers working abroad.
A delay would also make it harder for Moldova to move forward in resolving the conflict with its breakaway Transdniestria region which itself elected a new president on December 25.
Lupu said he was withdrawing "to open up new opportunities to elect president and resolve the political crisis in Moldova."
He had already failed to muster the necessary parliamentary majority in a December 16 vote. Another failure would have forced parliament to be dissolved and a new general election to be called.
As parliament speaker, Lupu has been acting as interim president.
The head of state wields significant executive powers and appoints the prime minister with parliament's support. The last president, communist leader Vladimir Voronin, stepped down in September 2009.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)