March 4, 2016 / 3:28 PM / in 3 years

Moldovan top court rules for direct elections to choose president

CHISINAU (Reuters) - A leading court in Moldova on Friday ruled in favor of having direct national elections to choose a president rather than a vote in parliament - a concession to protesters who have been demonstrating for months against the political elite.

Protesters carry Moldova's national flags during an anti-government rally, organised by the civic platform "Dignity and Truth" (DA), in central Chisinau, Moldova, September 6, 2015. REUTERS/Valery Korchmar

The constitutional court’s decision to revert to a national vote - which will require support from two-thirds of lawmakers to become law - would give some political power back to ordinary Moldovans who are angry with high-level corruption and low living standards

Since last September thousands have been regularly turning out to protest the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system which has led to widespread disenchantment with the ruling elite and undermined the authority of the ex-Soviet state’s pro-Western leaders.

Under the present system, the president is elected by a constitutional majority of 60 percent in parliament - a system which many Moldovans say breeds rule by political cliques.

“The constitutional court has restored citizens’ right to select the president,” the court said in a statement.

The four-year term of the current president, Nicolae Timofti, expires later this month.

The amendment is unlikely to appease all protesters, many of whom have demanded early parliamentary elections and want top figures to be held accountable for the banking fraud, which saw the equivalent of one-eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic product disappear overseas.

They also opposed the appointment of Prime Minister Pavel Filip, seeing him as part of a discredited political establishment.

The ruling is “the first victory brought about by the people,” said Stanislav Pavlovsky, a protest leader and former judge in the European Court of Human Rights.

“It has opened the way for the country to escape its captured state. People must says a decisive ‘no’ to the criminal government,” he said.

Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, needs a stable government to unlock further funding from overseas lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, that was withheld in the wake of the banking scandal and subsequent political crisis.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Alessandra Prentice; Additional reporting by Anatolie Golea in Chisinau; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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