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Moldovan parliament votes to hold EU referendum, presidential election on Oct. 20

Moldovan parliament votes to hold EU referendum, presidential election on Oct. 20
epa11324078 Moldova's President Maia Sandu (L) gives a joint press conference with Norway's prime minister in the prime minister's residence in Oslo, Norway, 07 May 2024. EPA-EFE/Terje Bendiksby NORWAY OUT

CHISINAU, May 16 (Reuters) - Parliament in ex-Soviet Moldova voted on Thursday to hold a referendum in October on European Union membership, the cornerstone of President Maia Sandu's policies, alongside a presidential election.

By Alexander Tanas

Sandu singles out Russia and corruption as the biggest threats to the sovereignty of the country lying between Ukraine and Romania. Moscow’s war in Ukraine has buffeted Moldova, with missile and drone remnants repeatedly landing on its territory.

The proposed Oct. 20 date for the referendum was backed by a total of 56 members in the 101-seat assembly, where Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) holds a majorityMembers then quickly approved the same date for the presidential poll, in which Sandu is seeking re-election.

Twenty-four assembly members from pro-Russian opposition parties took no part in the vote. One member tried for a time to block parliament’s rostrum.

Opposition parties oppose Sandu’s rapid drive for European integration and say the president has called the referendum to improve her chances of winning the presidential poll.

They call for improved ties with Russia and say a plebiscite should wait until after membership talks begin – the EU agreed last year to launch talks with both Moldova and Ukraine.

Lilian Carp, a leading member of the PAS party, mocked opposition deputies, saying they would have voiced no objections if the referendum had proposed integration with the defunct Soviet Union.

“Citizens of Moldova will have their say in the referendum,” Carp told the chamber. “Integration with the EU means peace and stability.”

Moldova’s Constitutional Court had earlier given its approval for the two ballots to be staged simultaneously.

Moldovans will be asked if they are for or against European integration with a view to joining the 27-member EU.

If the vote passes and turnout exceeds 33 percent, an addendum to the constitutional will declare EU integration “the strategic goal of the Republic of Moldova” and a separate section on the process will be added.

The opposition is made up of Socialists, Communists and the Chance party, linked to fugitive businessman Ilan Shor, sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the 2014 disappearance of $1 billion from Moldovan banks.

Shor now lives in Moscow after spending time in Israel and said on Thursday he had been granted Russian citizenship. Chance and a group of smaller parties last month announced – in Moscow – the creation of the “Victory” electoral bloc to contest the October ballot.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Editing by Ron Popeski, Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Macfie)

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