If election is not decisive, I'll call another, Moldova's president says

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldovan President Igor Dodon said on Wednesday he was prepared to call another election within three or four months for the sake of stability if February’s poll produces a hung parliament.

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Surveys suggest that the Socialists, who favor friendlier ties with Russia, will emerge with most seats on Feb. 24 vote, but may not secure a majority or be able to form a coalition. The current pro-Western governing coalition may not be resurrected as its leader, the Democratic Party, is tainted by corruption scandals.

“In the event that the parties fail to agree on the establishment of a ruling coalition and the formation of a new government, I, as president will ... call for early elections to be held as soon as possible,” Dodon told Reuters in an interview.

Moldova, a small country squeezed between the European Union and Ukraine, is politically divided between the Socialist party, which Dodon led before becoming president, and the ruling coalition.

It plunged into crisis in 2014 after $1 billion, around an eighth of its economic output, was pilfered from three banks. Separately, allegations of rigging in the Chisinau mayoral race in 2018 prompted the European Union to freeze aid.

“I also understand that Moldova’s image has lost a lot in recent years, especially over the theft of the billion from banks and the cancellation of the election results for the mayor of Chisinau last year,” Dodon said.

“And a new political crisis will once again damage Moldova’s image. I agree we can avoid this, but everything depends on the result of the upcoming election.”

Dodon won the presidency in 2016 as leader of the Socialists and said he wanted to work with them to balance ties with east and west.

“We support open and close cooperation with all big players, including the United States and all other countries. We don’t want to promote pro-American, pro-European or pro-Russian politics, but only politics in the interests of the Republic of Moldova,” he said.

Dodon said Moldova should keep its Association Agreement with the EU, a political and trade deal that can be a precursor to membership, but should renegotiate aspects of it to improve conditions for Moldovan exporters.

He plans to work with the new government to push reforms and reintegrate Transdniestria, a breakaway statelet that wants to join Russia, into Moldova.

Dodon has clashed frequently with the coalition led by the Democratic Party over everything from foreign policy to ministerial appointments. He accuses the coalition of using the state apparatus to bend next month’s election in its favor.

As an example, he says more polling stations have been set up for Moldovans abroad in western countries than in Russia, even though more Moldovans live in Russia.

“There is another big danger - this is the legitimacy of the elections, as well as how the authorities will guarantee a transparent and democratic election process,” he said.

In turn, Dodon has been accused of colluding with Russia to interfere with next month’s election, which he denies.

Editing by Kevin Liffey